The Art of Living Well: John Locke’s 4 Essential Principles For a Fulfilling Life

I am absolutely thrilled to delve into the profound teachings of an influential philosopher.

Known as the father of liberalism, John Locke’s philosophical insights have shaped the very essence of modern society, politics, and individuality.

But, Locke’s ideas are not always easy to digest or follow.

He was a complex thinker, and his writings were often dense and technical. However, his insights into living well are still relevant today.

Through his groundbreaking work, Locke delves into the fundamental principles of personal liberty, reason, and self-ownership, revealing the critical ingredients for a life well-lived.

“Every man carries about him a touchstone, if he will make use of it, to distinguish substantial gold from superficial glitterings, truth from appearances. And indeed the use and benefit of this touchstone, which is natural reason, is spoiled and lost only by assumed prejudices, overweening presumption, and narrowing our minds,” he wrote in “Locke’s Conduct of the Understanding.”

With his unique blend of philosophy and practical advice, Locke challenges conventional wisdom and invites readers to question their assumptions about what it means to live a good life.

Through his writings, Locke provides a thought-provoking framework for reflecting on our lives. Whether seeking guidance on personal growth, relationships, or finding your life’s purpose, Locke offers profound insights that can transform your perspective and guide you towards a more meaningful existence.

In this short, thought-provoking essay, we will uncover Locke’s profound ideas on pursuing a good life, the nature of human understanding, and the role of reason and individual autonomy in guiding your path.

1. True freedom is the capacity to exercise internal control

“The most precious of all possessions is power over ourselves.” — John Locke

Locke’s assertion emphasises the significance of individual agency. To have power over ourselves means we can make conscious choices, govern our actions, and shape our lives according to our values, desires, and principles.

In this sense, true freedom is not merely the absence of external constraints but also the capacity to exercise internal control over our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.

When we control our impulses, emotions, and actions, we experience a sense of coherence and peace within ourselves.

“Men’s happiness or misery is [for the] most part of their own making,” he said.

Internal equilibrium leads to a deeper and more fulfilling sense of happiness and contentment, as we are not at the mercy of external circumstances but rather guided by our own reasoned choices.

Power over ourselves suggests we are responsible for the consequences of our decisions and actions, which fosters a sense of accountability and ownership in our lives.

It also means embracing our distinct experiences, perspectives, and aspirations. Rather than conforming to external expectations, we strive to become the best version of ourselves, acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses and accepting who we are with integrity.

Power over ourselves represents an ongoing journey of self-discovery, self-discipline, and self-realisation. It leads to a deeper understanding of our identities and the opportunity to live purposefully.

2. Worries limit our freedom and capacity to enjoy life

The things we worry about have powerful control over us.

Worries can be distracting.

More often than not, your worries occupy your mental and emotional space, diverting your attention and energy away from other essential aspects of life.

“What worries you, masters you,” writes John Locke.

Concentrating on tasks, being productive, or pursuing our goals effectively can be challenging when we’re preoccupied with the many life concerns.

The opposite of worry is acceptance.

When you accept the things that you cannot control, you free yourself from the power of worry. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about what happens to you. It simply means you don’t let your worries control you.

For a psychologically rich life, strive for mental and emotional mastery.

Remember, what worries you masters you. So, take control of your worries and free yourself from their power.

3. Transcend the limitations of life

“Don’t let the things you don’t have prevent you from using what you do have.” — John Locke

Life often presents us with limitations and constraints; adaptability is how we thrive. When you face setbacks or challenges, focusing on what you have and pushing forward can be a key to eventual fulfilment.

Locke reminds us that we can adapt and make progress even in less-than-ideal circumstances. He encourages a pragmatic mindset and a proactive approach to life.

Locke speaks of personal liberty, the importance of experience, and the idea that people can shape their destinies.

He also emphasises resourcefulness. Instead of fixating on what you lack, focus on maximising the use of your existing resources and talents.

Appreciate the assets, skills, and opportunities you already have to progress rather than dwelling on your lack of knowledge.

Waiting for the perfect conditions or all the necessary skills can lead to inaction. Take action based on what you have, even if it’s not everything you wish for. Don’t let the things you don’t have to prevent you from using what you do have.

4. Use reason as your last judge — don’t be swayed by irrational impulses or baseless beliefs

Reason drives curiosity and a thirst for understanding.

Reason empowers us to question the status quo, challenge conventional wisdom, and explore new ideas. It opens up endless possibilities for growth and progress.

“Reason must be our last judge and guide in everything,” says John Locke.

It’s a concise expression of his philosophical stance, which places a high value on human reason and its role in shaping our beliefs and actions.

When we rely on reason, we tap into our ability to think logically, ensuring that our choices are based on sound judgment.

We can critically analyse situations, weigh the evidence, and arrive at the most sensible conclusions through reason.

Without reason, we would be driven solely by emotions and impulses, leading to impulsive and often regrettable actions.

All men are liable to error; and most men are, in many points, by passion or interest, under temptation to it,” Locke said.

With reason as our guide, we can evaluate different perspectives, consider alternative solutions, and make informed choices that align with our values and goals. It also empowers us to think independently and not simply follow the crowd or succumb to societal pressures.

His statement also underscores the idea of personal freedom.

Locke believes every person has the right to make their own choices and determine the course of their own life.

He thought people have the right to exercise their reason and make choices for themselves, especially in matters that concern their well-being. It ties into his broader philosophy of individual rights and liberty.

In conclusion, John Locke’s words resonate deeply with me.

His insights on living well offer timeless guidance for navigating the complexities of life. His philosophy encourages us to embrace our autonomy, reason, and personal responsibility.

His ideas, rooted in reason, individual liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, offer a roadmap for finding our way, inspiring us to live pursue lives that reflect our true selves.