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drawing of those who have a why to live can bear almost any how

❝Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how.❞ -Frederich Nietzsche

Frederich Nietzsche was an existential philosopher who argued against conformity and for the empowerment of individuals to take responsibility for their lives.

His quote above is worth taking a deeper look at.


Having a "Why" to live is to answer the question, "Why are you here?" That doesn't need to be an overly philosophical question. It's simply asking what is worth doing with your time. It's deciding who you want to be.

Further, his point is that a Why to live can give you direction and help keep you on a meaningful path. It serves as a guide.

You can think of it like a North Star.

drawing of north star as purpose

If you're into mindfulness and meditation, you know that an anchor is something we direct our attention towards (commonly our breath) and redirect back to when we get distracted. If the North Star comparison doesn't work, you can think of a Why like an anchor in meditation.

drawing of purpose as an anchor

Some people are quite uncomfortable with the idea of goals (I'm one of them), and having a North Star or anchor might feel a little bit too much like a goal. If that's you, simply think of your Why as a flag in the ground.

However you view your Why, it serves as a guide to remind you where you want to go. You can change your mind later - your Why can change. But having a Why gives you direction, and also helps you reorient if you get distracted.

drawing of your why and purpose as a flag in the ground

Having a Why to live helps us choose our own path.

drawing of choosing to conform or follow your purpose


Your Why sits at the top of your priorities. Think of it like the tippy top of a pyramid. It's important but it's not the whole story.

drawing of why to live

Serving as the foundation of your Why are your core values. You wouldn't have a Why that you didn't find valuable or meaningful. So the first step in determining your Why is to first understand your values.

drawing of values supporting purpose

In other words, our values and our Why are connected.

drawing of your why being connected to your values

The Meaning in Life Questionnaire assesses two dimensions of meaning in life, the presence of and search for meaning. Presence measures how full you feel your life is of meaning. Search measures how engaged and motivated you are in efforts to find meaning in your life.


You may know other people who have different values than you have. They might even be people very close to you. How can someone not value what you value? How can others value things you don't?

Everyone has different values. We all have different values because everyone has a different past.

Our past shapes what we find important and why. Understanding your biography - financial or otherwise - can give you insights into what you value and why.

drawing of past experiences shape personal values

As you lived your life, things happened to you. Some of those things were your fault. Other times, it was completely out of your control. In any case, you learned lessons. Doing some things felt important and meaningful. The lesson there is that whatever you did or how you responded made you feel good. It felt valuable.

drawing of harvesting the past for lessons

To summarize how your Why gets created, your past informs your values. Your values inform your Why. And your Why keeps you on the right track.


We haven't yet talked about the second part of Nietzsche's message. We talked about "Those who have a why to live..."

The second part of that is "...can bear with almost any how."

When he refers to How, he's referring to life. Whatever life throws our way.

Think of this line as your life. It's familiar. It's comfortable. Even if it's stressful, you know this life.

Then, something happens that disrupts your life. It could be losing a job, getting evicted, or getting divorced. There are far more severe and scary disruptions, too.

But it doesn't always have to be something bad. There are good disruptions, like graduating college, moving to a new city, having children, or retiring.

When one of these events disrupts your life, the rules change.

We see these disruptions throughout our whole life. Some of them are good. Some of then are not so good. Others are awful.

Yet they are guaranteed. True, we may not know exactly which disruption will happen when, but we do know that our lives will change. There's an old saying that change is the only constant in life. Or, as the band Rush puts it in their song Tom Sawyer, "Changes aren't permanent, but change is."

These disruptions, as I've been calling them, are often referred to as life transitions. A life transition occurs when a new situation enters our lives.

drawing of life transitions

In Nietzsche's words, life transitions are life's "hows."

drawing of life's transitions as being a how to live

Thus, "Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how" means that those with a strong sense of purpose in life are well equipped to handle life's transitions.

You get one life; live intentionally.


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Barker, Dan: Life Driven Purpose Ben-Shahar, Tal: Happier, No Matter What Boniwell, Ilona: Positive Psychology in a Nutshell Fischer, John Martin: Death, Immortality, and Meaning in Life Frankl, Viktor: Man’s Search for Meaning Hagen, Derek: Money’s Purpose in Your Life Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis Hefferon, Kate & Ilona Boniwell: Positive Psychology Ivtzan, Itai, Tim Lomas, Kate Hefferon & Piers Worth: Second Wave Positive Psychology Lukas, Elisabeth & Bianca Hirsch: Meaningful Living Manson, Mark: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

McKay, Matthew, John Forsyth, and Georg Eifert: Your Life on Purpose Meaning and Valued Living Masterclass Sinek, Simon: Start With Why Sinek, Simon, David Mead & Peter Docker: Find Your Why Steger, Michael & Pninit Russo-Netzer: Meaning360 Vos, Joel: Meaning in Life Wallace, David Foster: This is Water



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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