How to Live: 27 conflicting answers and one weird conclusion

Author: Derek Sivers

Rating: 10/10

Another brilliant work by Derek Sivers. Completing the series (“Your Music and People” and “Hell Yeah or No“) this book offers you 27 answers to one of the most important questions: How to Live?

The brilliance is in giving you different, often contradicting perspectives on the same subject, which helps you to see the whole picture.

Charlie Munger once said, “I never allow myself to hold an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.” And “How to Live” makes it much easier to form your own opinion by giving you arguments for both sides without sounding prescriptive.

Derek: “It took me two years to write, then two years to edit.
I removed every unnecessary word.
It’s meant to be read very slowly.
One sentence per line.
You’ll see.

More info on


Here’s how to live: Be independent. All misery comes from dependency. If you weren’t dependent on income, people, or technology, you would be truly free. The only way to be deeply happy is to break all dependencies.

Most problems are interpersonal. To be part of society is to lose a part of yourself. Cut ties with society. Don’t engage. Don’t even rebel, because that’s reacting. Instead, do what you’d do if you were the only person on Earth.

People think we live in a world of politics, society, norms, and news. But none of it is real. They’re just interpersonal drama. They’re the noisy waste product of unhealthy minds.

When you know what you’re doing, you won’t care what anyone else is doing.

Never agree with anything the same day you hear it, because some ideas are persuasively hypnotic. Wait a few days to decide what you really think. Don’t let ideas into your head or heart without your permission.

Everyone has their own lives to manage. Nobody is responsible for you, and you aren’t responsible for anybody. You don’t owe anyone anything.

Your past indulgences and habits might be addictions. Quit a harmless habit for a month, just to prove you can.

You can’t be free without self-mastery. Your past indulgences and habits might be addictions. Quit a harmless habit for a month, just to prove you can.

You don’t see things as they are. You see them as you are. Change yourself and you change the world.

When you have no home, the whole world is your home. Be a nomadic minimalist to break dependencies on stuff.

No choice is inherently the best. What makes something the best choice? You. You make it the best through your commitment to it. Your dedication and actions make any choice great.

You can stop seeking the best option. Pick one and irreversibly commit. Then it becomes the best choice for you. Voilà.

No choice is inherently the best. What makes something the best choice? You. You make it the best through your commitment to it. Your dedication and actions make any choice great. This is a life-changing epiphany. You can stop seeking the best option. Pick one and irreversibly commit. Then it becomes the best choice for you. Voilà.

The English word “decide” comes from Latin “to cut off”. Choose one and cut off other options. To go one direction means you’re not going other directions. When you commit to one outcome, you’re united and sharply focused. When you sacrifice your alternate selves, your remaining self has amazing power.

The more social ties we have, the happier we are. The bond of friendship is one of the deepest joys in life. Notice those words: ties, bond. These are words of commitment. We say we want freedom, in theory. But we actually prefer this warm embrace.

Once you decide what’s important to you, you know how your ideal self will act and what your ideal day will be. So why not act that way and live that day every day? Commit to your habits to make them rituals. If it’s not important, never do it. If it’s important, do it every day.

Marry. Marry someone full of kindness who is committed to putting you in the center of their life. Marry someone you don’t want to change, who doesn’t want to change you. Someone that doesn’t punish you for mistakes. Someone who sees you as your highest potential. Commit completely.

Maximize your inputs. See all the places. Eat all the food. Hear all the music. Meet all the people. Kiss all the beauties. Be insatiable.

Have no expectation of how something should be, or you won’t see how it really is.

Expressing your anger doesn’t relieve it. It makes you angrier.

Actions often have the opposite of the intended result. People who try too hard to be liked are annoying. People who try too hard to be attractive are repulsive. People who try too hard to be enlightened are self-centered. People who try too hard to be happy are miserable.

Change your need to change things. In your most peaceful moments, your mind is quiet. You’re not thinking you should be doing anything else. When everything feels perfect, you say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” So, live your whole life in this mindset.

Say nothing unless it must be said. People will appreciate your silence, and know that when you speak, it must be important. Shallow rivers are noisy. Deep lakes are silent.

Most actions are a pursuit of emotions. You think you want to take action or own a thing. But what you really want is the emotion you think it’ll bring. Skip the actions. Go straight for the emotion.

Practice feeling emotions intentionally, instead of using actions to create them. You don’t need marriage to feel security. Marriage doesn’t make you secure. You don’t need recognition to feel pride. Recognition doesn’t give you pride. You don’t need a beach to feel tranquility. Places don’t make emotions. You do.

Your whole experience of life is in your mind. Focus on your internal world, not external world.

When a problem is bothering you, it feels like you need to do something about it. Instead, identify what belief is really the source of your trouble. Replace that belief with one that doesn’t bother you.

Just because somebody asked you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer it. Dramatic people are fueled by reactions. When you stop reacting, they go away.

Your emotions insist they need you to respond. When you ignore the urges, they go away too.

The unintelligent jump to conclusions. The wise just observe. Wisdom comes from removing the junk, lies, and obstacles to clear thinking. Instead of learning more, get wise by learning less. Keep an empty head, so you can observe clearly.

If you need money, be an investor. It’s the only career where you profit the most by doing the least. It should take no more than an hour per month. The stock market takes money from the active traders and gives it to the patient.

If an action feels necessary, and you can’t let it go, just write it down for later.

f an action feels necessary, and you can’t let it go, just write it down for later. Everything seems more important while you’re thinking of it. Later, you’ll realize it’s not. But if it still feels necessary, adjust your time frame. A year from now, will it be important? Ten years from now? Zoom out as far as you need to make it unimportant. Then you’re free of it.

Imagine your future self judging your current life choices. When making a decision, ask yourself how you’ll feel about it when you’re old.

Only spend money on things that do long-term good, like education. In other words, never spend, only invest.

We overestimate what we can do in one year. We underestimate what we can do in ten years.

Put $25 a day in your investment account, and in thirty years, you’ll have over a million dollars. We overestimate what we can do in one year. We underestimate what we can do in ten years.

When you choose a behavior, you choose its future consequences.

We say someone is lucky if they are born into a rich family, in a stable country, full of opportunity. But that luck was created by the grandparents that moved to that promising place, then worked hard and saved money for the next generation instead of spending it themselves. Make your grandchildren lucky like this. Move to a place with good values that’s headed in the right direction.

Climate change might make everything between 40° and -40° latitude quite unlivable, so start getting legal resident status in a country outside of that, like Canada, New Zealand, or the Nordics. These might be the last livable places on Earth. Make sure your grandchildren will have citizenship.

If you want a successful network of connections, what matters is not how many people you know but how many different kinds of people you know. Building relationships worldwide brings more opportunity, more variety, and more chance for circumstance.

Those who shout, “my country is the best!” are those who have never left. In Icelandic, the word for “idiot” means “one who has never left home to journey abroad”.

You can’t see your own culture while you’re inside of it. Once you get out and look back, you can see which parts of your personality actually come from your environment.

To live a full and rewarding life, intertwine yourself with the world. Move somewhere far away. Plan to stay. Bring no baggage. Leave your expectations and certainties behind.

Like a person’s outlook on life is shaped by what they’ve been through, a culture’s values are shaped by its recent history.

From Japan, learn deep consideration for others, social harmony, and intrinsic perfection. Leave before you get so considerate that you can’t express yourself or take action. From Germany, learn rationality and directly honest communication. Leave before you start scolding strangers. From Brazil, learn to live in the present, and embrace every stranger as a friend. Leave before you forget about the future. From China, learn pragmatism and the multi-generational mindset. Leave before you get superstitious or prioritize social status. From France, learn idealism and resistance. Leave before you oppose everything in theory. From America, learn expressive rebellious individualism. Leave before thinking you’re the center of the world. From India, learn to improvise and thrive in complexity. Leave before feeling a divide between what’s inside versus outside your circle. In all cultures, avoid the madness of the crowd.

If you can’t remember something, it’s like it never happened. You could have a long healthy life, but if you can’t remember it, it’s like you had a short life. What a horrible way to live.

When you’re young, time goes slowly because everything is new. When you get older, time flies by, forgotten, because you’re not having as many new experiences. You need to prevent this. Monotony is the enemy. Novelty is the solution.

Turn your experiences into stories. A story is the remains of an experience. Make your stories entertaining, so people like to hear them. By telling good stories, your memories can last longer, because people will echo them back to you occasionally, or ask you to tell them again.

The more something means to you, the more you’ll remember it. Give moments meaning to remember them. Take away meaning to forget.

Striving makes you happy. Pursuit is the opposite of depression. People at the end of their life, who said they were the happiest with their life, were the ones who had spent the most time in the flow of fascinating work.

Concentrating all of your life’s force on one thing gives you incredible power. Sunlight won’t catch a stick on fire. But if you use a magnifying glass to focus the sunlight on one spot, it will. Mastery needs your full focused attention.

Decisions are easy when you have only one priority. Your destination is a huge mountain peak on the horizon. You can see it from everywhere.

Most people look down at the ground, upset by every obstacle. With your eyes on the horizon, you’ll step over obstacles, undeterred.

People don’t fail by choosing the wrong path — they fail by not choosing. Make your choice, then make a lifetime commitment to constant improvement.

Goals don’t improve your future. Goals only improve your present actions. A good goal makes you take action immediately. A bad goal doesn’t. A goal shows what’s right and wrong. What moves you towards your goal is right.

How many push-ups could you do right now? But how many could you do if you took a ten-minute break between each set? Many more. That’s the secret. Take tiny breaks when working, to go longer than most.

Focus means head down. Big picture means head up. The more you’re doing of one, the less you’re doing of the other. If you’ve been head-down on a task for too long, lift your head up to make sure you’re going the right way.

Most people fail in life not by aiming too high, but by aiming too low. If you aim high and miss, you don’t actually fail.

Don’t live somewhere pleasant surrounded by normal people. Live among your fellow freaks, where obsession is normal and ambition is rewarded.

You don’t get extreme results without extreme actions. If you do what most people do, you’ll get what most people get. Don’t be normal.

Be sharply focused, not well-rounded.

Nobody cares what you’re bad at, and neither should you. Amplify your strengths. Nobody will see the rest.

How long will it take you to become a master? It doesn’t matter. Imagine getting to a mountaintop after a long hike through a gorgeous forest. Achieving your goal would feel like taking off your backpack. That’s all. You do it for the journey, not the destination.

Socially, try to get rejected. Learn about “rejection therapy”. Make audacious requests that you think will be denied. This removes the pain of rejection.

Since you can’t avoid problems, just find good problems. Happiness isn’t everlasting tranquility. Happiness is solving good problems.

The English word “passion” comes from the Latin word “pati”, meaning “to suffer or endure”. To be passionate about something is to be willing to suffer for it — to endure the pain it’ll bring.

The easy road leads to a hard future. The hard road leads to an easy future.

If you want to do something, do it now. If you don’t want to do it now, then you don’t want to do it at all, so let it go.

You don’t need a schedule. Just pay attention to what excites you. If you’re not excited about what you’re doing, move on to something else.

You don’t need plans. Plans are just predictions about what you might want in the future. But your future self shouldn’t be bound to what your past self predicted. So never make plans.

Most problems are not about the real present moment. They’re anxiety, worried that something bad might happen in the future. They’re trauma, remembering something bad in the past. But none of them are real. If you stop and look around the room, asking yourself if you have any actual problems right now, the answer is probably no. Unless you’re in physical pain or danger, the problems were all in your head. Memories and imagined futures are not real. The present moment is real and safe.

Happiness is something to do, someone to love, and something to desire. Heaven is not what’s at the end of the path. Heaven is the path itself.

Ignore all marketing and advertising. Nobody is pushing what really matters. Friendships, nature, family, learning, community. The best things in life aren’t things.

Ignore all news. If it’s important, there will eventually be a good book about it.

The modern life is shallow and distracted. The timeless life is deep and focused.

Live in the past. Watch the greatest movies of all time. Read the classics. Listen to the legends. These things have lasted because they work so well. Time is the best filter.

Learn time-tested skills that were just as useful in your grandparents’ time as they are today. Speaking, writing, gardening, accounting, persuasion, and survival skills. These skills have hardly changed in a century. They’re unlikely to change in your lifetime.

Don’t believe what you think. Have questions, not answers. Doubt everything. The easiest person to fool is yourself.

Be surprised by something every day. Find that exciting moment when you get a completely new perspective.

Whatever scares you, go do it. Then it won’t scare you anymore. Whatever you hate, get to know it. Then you won’t hate it anymore.

To communicate clearly, you have to think clearly. Writing is refined thinking. Public speaking tests your writing on a real audience. Great public speaking comes from great private thinking.

“Follow your passion” is terrible advice. Fleeting interests make a dizzy compass. Passions pass so quickly that to follow them would have you dashing around like a dog chasing bubbles.

Don’t follow your heart. Your heart has been hacked. Your intuition is usually wrong because it’s just emotion, subliminally influenced by amoral inputs. Emotions are a wild animal. You need rules to tame them.

Rules must be absolutely unbreakable. If you try to decide, each time, whether it’s OK to break the rule or not, then you’ve missed the whole point of rules. Rules are to save you from deciding. That’s why hard rules are easier to keep.

Discipline means now. Choose the pain of discipline, not the pain of regret.

Discipline means now. Choose the pain of discipline, not the pain of regret. An undisciplined moment seems harmless, but they add up to disaster. Without discipline, the tiny things in life will be your downfall.

Define a good life as more than shallow pleasure. A good life is contribution. A good life is resisting temptation. A good life is being the best you can be.

Humor means using your mind beyond necessity, beyond reality, for both noticing and imagining. That’s why we admire a quick wit. It shows you quickly looked at something from many angles, found the one that amused you the most, and considerately expressed it to someone else. Observation, creativity, and empathy, all in an instant. What could be a better sign of a healthy mind?

At every moment in life, choose whatever action or angle amuses you.

Tragedy hurts the most when it’s unexpected. But if you expect it, you take away its power.

Expecting life to be wonderful is disappointing. Expecting life to be disappointing is wonderful. If you expect to be disappointed, you won’t be.

People talk about pessimism and optimism by saying, “Glass half-empty or glass half-full?” But a caveman would say, “Oh my god! A glass! What a great invention! I can see what I’m about to drink! This is amazing! A blanket! A chair! A bed! Food, ready and waiting? This is heaven!”

Want nothing, and nothing will disappoint you. Want nothing, and nothing is outside your control. Want nothing, and fate can’t hurt you.

Distinguish between what’s in your control and what isn’t. If it’s not in your control, put it out of your head. Trying to control outcomes makes you disappointed and resentful. Focus only on your thoughts and actions.

Everything that happens is neutral. Your beliefs label it as good or bad. The only way to change your happiness is to change your beliefs.

Did someone make you angry? Did a situation make you sad? No. It’s all you. Nothing is good or bad. You just reacted as if it was. When something bad happens, ask, “What’s great about this?” Instead of changing the world, just change your reactions.

Your goal is grateful indifference. Win the lottery? Go to jail? Get famous? Go blind in an accident? It doesn’t matter because you’re fine either way. Detach from the outcome and be OK no matter what happens.

My neighbor has a dog that attacks strangers and has even bitten a child. When people complain, my neighbor says he can’t help it. “Dogs will be dogs.” Wrong! Dogs can be tamed. He just never trained his dog. Instead he acts like the situation is hopeless, and makes it everyone else’s problem. This is how most people are about their emotions. They say, “I can’t help the way I feel.” Wrong! Emotions can be tamed. You are in control. The problem comes from going easy on yourself. Instead, train your emotions like you would a dog.

Visit your favorite places. Listen to your favorite music. Taste your favorite food. Touch your favorite people. This might be the last time you do all these things, so appreciate each moment fully. All of this appreciation is practice for death.

Shallow happy is having a donut. Deep happy is having a fit body. Shallow happy is what you want now. Deep happy is what you want most. Shallow happy serves the present. Deep happy serves the future. Shallow happy is trying to conquer the world. Deep happy is conquering yourself. Shallow happy is pursuing pleasure. Deep happy is pursuing fulfillment. Fulfillment is more fun than fun.

When death comes, you’ll treat it with the same indifference as everything else. You’ve been preparing for it all along.

Ask open-ended questions, asking people’s thoughts. Ask them to elaborate on whatever they’ve said. Show that you’re interested. Allow silence. Don’t fill it. Silence gives space to think, and an invitation to contribute without pressure.

Small talk is just a way of matching the other person’s tone and mood. It helps them be comfortable with you. Be warm, open, and fully present with everyone you encounter. Confidence attracts.

Appreciate differences. A conversation with a clone of yourself would be boring.

Whenever you’re thinking something nice about someone, tell them. A sincere compliment can put a lot of fuel in someone’s tank. People don’t hear enough compliments.

Imagine if you found out someone was going to die tomorrow. Imagine how much attention, compassion, and generosity you’d give them. Imagine how you’d forgive their faults. Imagine what you’d do to make their last day on Earth the best it could be. Now treat everyone like that, every day.

The more something costs, the more people value it. By charging more, you’re actually helping them use it and appreciate it. Charge more than is comfortable to your current self-image. Value yourself higher, then rise to fit this valuation.

You have to be fully committed to getting rich, or it won’t happen. Adjust your self-image so that you congruently feel that you should and will be rich. If you subconsciously don’t feel you deserve it, you’ll sabotage your pursuit. But if you truly feel you deserve it, you’ll do whatever it takes. So adjust your self-image first.

Don’t aim to just be comfortable. You don’t make the world a better place by just getting by. If you aim to be comfortable, you won’t get rich. But if you aim to be rich, you’ll also be comfortable. Aiming to be rich makes you think bigger, which is more exciting, more fun, and less conventional since most people don’t think big.

Boring industries have little competition, since most people are seeking status in glamorous new fields. Find an old industry and solve an old problem in a new way. Your innovation might be behind the scenes, like owning the entire supply chain.

Avoid competition. Never be another contender in the crowd, fighting for scraps. It doesn’t pay to do something anyone can do. Be separate — in a category of your own. Invent something completely new. Instead of fighting to split an existing dollar, inventing creates a dollar out of thin air. Invent for a very small niche of people who need something that doesn’t exist. Instead of making a key, then looking for a lock, find something locked, then make its key.

Investing is counter-intuitive. You need to ignore your gut and heart. Follow dispassionate reason. Be disciplined, not clever. It’s a matter of math, not mood. Emotions are the enemy of investing.

Money is your servant, not your master. Don’t act rich. Don’t lose touch with regular people. Stay frugal. Reducing your expenses is so much easier than increasing your income.

Nothing destroys money faster than seeking status. Don’t show off. Don’t invest in a business you don’t control.

Don’t loan money to a friend, or you’ll lose your money and your friend. You’d be better off just giving them the money. The return is the same ($0), but you’d skip the bad feelings.

When you’re rich, everything feels free. A $5000 expense feels like it costs a dollar. It doesn’t dent your bank account. Money will be like tap water. It’s always there. You don’t need to think about it.

You only need to get rich once. When you win a game, you stop playing. Don’t be the dragon in the mountain, just sitting on your gold. Don’t lose momentum in life. Once you’ve done it, take it with you and do something else.

At every little decision, ten times a day, choose the thing you haven’t tried. Act out of character. It’s liberating. Get your security not from being an anchor, but from being able to ride the waves of change.

Love is a combination of attention, appreciation, and empathy.

Many times a day, you have the opportunity to connect. You can dash through a place, or stop to appreciate it. You can do an activity absent-mindedly, or pay full attention to every detail of it.

Learning is loving. The more you learn about something, the more you can love it. Learn about a place to appreciate it.

Actively listen to people. When they’re succinct, ask them to elaborate. People aren’t used to someone being sincerely interested, so they’ll need some coaxing to continue. But never try to fix them. When someone tells you what’s broken, they want you to love the brokenness, not try to eliminate it.

If you say what you think someone wants to hear, you’re preventing a real connection. Manners are shallow. Honesty is deep. Always tell the real truth, or they’ll never know the real you, so you’ll never really feel loved.

Don’t exaggerate to be more entertaining. Don’t downplay. If you downplay your achievements to make someone else comfortable, you’re preventing connection with that person and even with yourself. Just be honest. If you’ve done something great, say so. If you’re not doing well, say so.

If you have feelings for someone, and you don’t let that person know, you’re lying with your silence. Be direct.

The more you really connect with people, the more you learn about yourself: what excites you, what drains you, what attracts you, and what intimidates you.

Beware of the feeling that someone completes you or will save you. You have wounds in your past. You have needs that were ignored. You seek someone to fill these gaps — someone that has traits you crave. But nobody will save you. You have to fill those gaps yourself. When you’re going through an unstable time in your life, you latch on to whatever makes you feel stable. Instant obsessive love is a bad sign that you’re thinking of someone as the solution. Projecting perfection onto someone is not love. You say “I love you” but really mean “I love this”.

Notice how you feel around people. Notice who brings out the best in you. Notice who makes you feel more connected with yourself — more open and more honest.

Unless you are drops of liquid, one plus one never equals one. You must both be free and able to live without each other. Be together by choice, not necessity or dependence. Love your partner, but don’t need your partner. Need is insatiable. Need destroys love.

You don’t love someone to shape their future. You don’t judge your friendships by how successful your friend becomes. So don’t love and judge your children that way. Don’t try to change them. Just give them a great environment where they can thrive. Give them the safety to experiment, make mistakes, and fail up.

When most people see modern art, they think, “I could do that!” But they didn’t. That is the difference between consumer and creator. Which would you rather be? Someone who hasn’t created anything in years because you’re so busy consuming? Or someone who hasn’t consumed anything in years because you’re so busy creating? Don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration will never make the first move. She comes only when you’ve shown you don’t need her. Do your work every day, no matter what. Suspend all judgment when creating the first draft. Just get to the end. It’s better to create something bad than nothing at all.

Picasso was asked if he knew what a painting was going to look like when he started it. He said, “No, of course not. If I knew, I wouldn’t bother doing it.”

Explore whatever excites you most. If you’re not excited by it, your audience won’t be either.

Ultimately, you need to connect with people, not trees.

Let the deadline of death drive you. Create until your last breath. Let your last spark of life go into your work.

Die empty, so death takes only a corpse. When you’re gone, your work shows who you were. Not your intentions. Not what you took in. Only what you put out.

Most of eating healthy is just avoiding bad food. Most of being right is just not being wrong. To have good people in your life, just cut out the bad ones.

See, you only really learn when you’re surprised — when your previous idea of something was wrong. If you’re not surprised, it means the new information fits in with what you already know.

Take on big challenges. Start a company in Silicon Valley. Ask investors for millions. Audition for Hollywood movies. Invite your dream date to dinner. While everyone else is nervously preparing, you jump right in, unafraid to fail.

If you aim for what you know you can do, you’re aiming too low.

Only dead fish go with the flow.

Begin by righting what’s wrong. Look for what’s ugly: ugly systems, ugly rules, ugly traditions. Look for what bothers you. If you can fix it, do it now. Otherwise, aim lower until you find something you can do now. Make it how it should be. Don’t complain. Just make the change.

Set up a company or foundation to act through. Make institutional change anonymously from behind the company, so your personality is not distracting the point. Call it something generic and impossible to oppose, like “Better World LLC”. Keep your public profile small. Be humble and likable. Prevent the straw man attack. For each change you seek to make, find someone effective to be the face for the campaign. Let the company and its contributors make the change. You quietly pull strings behind the scenes. Changing culture makes revolution. But it’s not a revolution if nobody loses. Someone will have to lose. People will be furious. When the bad people are mad, you’re doing it right.

Virtue is in the balance between extremes. Between the insecure and the egomaniac: confidence. Between the uptight and the clown: grace. Between the coward and the daredevil: courage. Between selfishness and sacrifice: generosity.

List what makes you happy and fulfilled, then schedule those things into your year.

(Visited 313 times, 1 visits today)