If Twitter had been around when Einstein was alive, he likely would have been an avid tweeter. Think about that for a moment.
Don’t believe me? Take a gander through the book Ideas and Opinions, a collection of most of Einstein’s written letters from his early years up until his death in 1955, and you’ll find not just a brilliant thinker but also a passionate and outspoken social advocate (not to mention an incredibly well-spoken writer).
But although he had much to say about the politics and economics of his day, his most profound knowledge and wisdom came from his words on living a meaningful life. Which isn’t surprising, considering how closely he himself related it to his life’s work in physics.
Life is crazy, messy, and often chaotic. But certain truths ring no matter the age or generation. And wading through the words of one of the most brilliant minds ever to walk the Earth can help you find some of those truths so that you might apply them for yourself.
Here are three lessons from Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions on living a meaningful life.
1. “It is the duty of every man of good will to strive steadfastly in his own little world to make [this] teaching of pure humanity a living force, so far as he can.”
Einstein believed that, at the core of every world religion, sat incredible wisdom.
However, he also believed that wisdom had been diluted so that the core teachings had been muddled and made difficult the obtaining of the real wisdom that lay within them.
He marveled at the beauty and astounding architecture of the universe but believed that understanding God or whatever it was out there, if anything, was impossible with our limited human minds:
“We are in the position of a little child,” says Einstein. “Entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.”
It’s because of this that Einstein believed our chief focus should be on discerning the core teachings of the various religious traditions and making them a force in our own lives for the betterment of humanity as a whole.
Chances are, you’ve come across some of that timeless wisdom yourself through your own tradition. Take what you’ve found and don’t be afraid to remove what you believe are adornments. But most importantly, act on that wisdom and live it not just for yourself but for others.
2. “It seems to me that the most important function of art and of science is to arouse and keep alive this feeling in those who are receptive.”
Einstein believed that art and science held a very special place in our existence and relationship with the world around us.
It doesn’t just help us contribute to the world or help us overcome challenges both internal and external, it also helps us connect with ourselves and the world in a very deep, one could even say religious, way.
“It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it,” says Einstein on the experience both an artist and scientist can have by delving deeply into both the mind and the workings of the universe. “The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought.”
His suggestion is to pursue a work of art (or one could say simply creativity) or scientific exploration deeply and with the entirety of your being, only then can you arrive at a level of experience which is beyond that of the typical daily hum-drum of life, to a place of both wonder and meaning.
3. “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”
We often forget just how much our lives depend on the work of those countless others who have toiled before us. Those who worked tirelessly to invent and develop, those who helped build and repair, and those who work each and every day to help us maintain the lifestyle which we now live.
Everything from the items in your local supermarket, brought from all around the world in a complex network of trade and transport, to the electric poles outside your home that power your light and washers and device chargers, the satellites in space you use to connect to the Internet, and the factories which make the medicine that save your life.
But much more than that, the countless lives that have been given and the struggles that have been won throughout history that have all helped contribute in their own small way to your life now as well. It’s impossible to recount just how many and how much your neighbors and ancestors have helped you. All you can do is sit back in awe and then get to work, showing your appreciation by contributing in your own small way to helping give back to those around you and who will come after you.
How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people — first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy.