How Shall You Live Your Life?


At a recent symposium, a grad student asked me, “How shall I live my life?”  I retorted, perhaps too quickly, “Fully and authentically, from the heart.” She requested, for elaboration and clarification, “How shall I find my true work, purpose and meaning here in this world?“

I recommended she read a terrific new book I recently finished by Sarah Bakewell about the seminal essayist Montaigne and his efforts to answer that very question. It’s called HOW TO LIVE: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Answers. Montaigne himself mentions one of his favorite pointers as being “Live Attentively”, which comes second from the top in his list of attempts to answer this question. I’m a big advocate of mindful living, wisely emphasized by Buddha in his teachings– a notion familiar to Western thought and philosophy, fresh and even foreign as it seems to be, to many, today here on these shores.


Gustav Flaubert, Madame Bovary’s creator, said simply: "I read Montaigne not for instruction or entertainment but in order to live.”


These are the French thinker and writer Michel de Montaigne’s twenty attempts (“essays”) to help answer the question, “HOW SHALL I LIVE?“

1. Don’t worry about death

2. Pay attention

3. Be born

4. Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted

5. Survive love and loss

6. Use little tricks

7. Question everything

8. Keep a private room behind the shop

9. Be convivial: live with others

10. Wake from the sleep of habit

11. Live temperately

12. Guard your humanity

13. Do something no one has done before

14. See the world

15. Do a good job, but not too good a job

16. Philosophize only by accident

17. Reflect on everything; regret nothing

18. Give up control

19. Be ordinary and imperfect

20. Let life be its own answer