9 Thinkers on Not Taking Existence too Seriously

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.”

The sentiment that “life should not be taken too seriously” is a sort of dry, crusty sponge of a cliché—a statement that seems to have had every drop of nourishing value squeezed from it after ten trillion uses.

And yet like so many lifeless platitudes, it contains a certain amount of wisdom—practical wisdom that is damn easy to forget in the day-to-day trenches and tangles of our lives.

So, in the spirit of revitalizing a Saharan truism and reflecting upon the real importance of retaining levity in the face of frustration, I dug up this brief collection of (hopefully) poignant quotes on approaching life a bit more playfully.

Dostoyevsky in Paris, 1863. Via Wiki Commons.

Dostoyevsky in Paris, 1863. Via Wiki Commons.

Thoughts on the Wisdom of Levity

From Fyodor Dostoevsky: 

“The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”

Joseph Campbell in the book Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion:

“As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you. Don’t bother to brush it off. Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance. Having a sense of humor saves you.”

Alan Watts’ ever-charming perspective:

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.”

Kurt Vonnegut in his novel Breakfast of Champions:

“‘I can’t tell if you’re serious or not,’ said the driver.

‘I won’t know myself until I find out if life is serious or not,’ said Trout. ‘It’s dangerous, I know, and it can hurt a lot. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s serious, too.’”

vonnegut dostoyevsky nietzsche

Painting of Vonnegut, Artist Unknown. Via Daniele Prati

A sentiment of Charles Bukowski’s:

“Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside — remembering all the times you’ve felt that way.”

Ray Bradbury in Twice 22: The Golden Apples of the Sun and a Medicine for Melancholy:

“I always figured we were born to fly, one way or other, so I couldn’t stand most men shuffling along with all the iron of the earth in their blood. I never met a man who weighed less than nine hundred pounds.”

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Friedrich Nietzsche in Basel, 1875. Via Wiki Commons.

Nietzsche in Basel, c. 1875. Via Wiki Commons.

The illustrious Friedrich Nietzsche weighs in:

“The certain prospect of death could sweeten every life with a precious and fragrant drop of levity; and now you strange apothecary souls have turned it into an ill-tasting drop of poison that makes the whole of life repulsive.”

From the immortal William Shakespeare: 

“Frame your mind to mirth and merriment
which bars a thousand harms
and lengthens life.”

Finally, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, as quoted in Dr. Seuss: American Icon:

“Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age. Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”

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About Jordan Bates

Jordan Bates is a creator, entrepreneur, and perpetually curious autodidact interested in just about everything. He tweets a lot. He questions all the things. He makes unusual rap songs. He wanders the globe and writes about the most vitalizing, useful, and/or world-changing insights he happens upon. He dreams of a more compassionate, cooperative global community in which every human being’s basic needs are met and all sentient beings are respected. Befriend him and/or get his free eBook on how to exit the world of traditional work and live a radically free life. Amor fati, humans.

  • Well once I get hit by birdshit and just laugh, then I’ll know I’ve reached a level of peace with myself and the world around me that I’ve always wanted.

    • Hah, your wit strikes me as a bit sardonic, Ragnar. Perhaps we can never laugh at all of the proverbial bird shit in our lives, but my aim is to laugh at more and more of it as the dripping days turn to months and years.

      As always, thanks for dropping a comment.

  • Zaeem Zahid

    This is one of the simplest pieces of advice that can have a profound effect on our lives, yet its one of the hardest to practise.

    I feel that a lot of people, myself included sometimes read these quotes and feel better in that moment but then go back to their old ways. It’s a similar phenomenon to when people say they are going to go to the gym, start running, lose x amount of weight, etc… which helps them feel better about themselves but they never end up doing it.

    I’ve found that the ones drive me the most are ones I can personally relate to. Usually what happens is that I go through something in my life and then stumble across a piece of wisdom that I have seen before but never truly appreciated.

    My favourite one from this post is “Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside — remembering all the times you’ve felt that way.” because I can count numerous times I have felt this way.

    I guess what I’m trying to articulate is that we should avoid the trap of just reading these words of wisdom. We should attempt to implement the advice so that we can use reference examples from our own lives to help us realise for ourselves how true and meaningful this type of wisdom is.


    • Zaeem,

      I think what you said is really smart and astute. That’s always the danger of quotes for me–they can be hard-hitting, but they’re so concise that the mind barely engages them and quickly forgets.

      That’s why I try to write primarily longer-form article on the site, but I decided this would be a good change-up.

      I agree that this advice is one of the hardest bits to put into practice. Ironically I think pain can push us toward humor when we need to find new ways to cope.

      Also, what you said about experiencing something difficult then seeing a bit of wisdom in a new way–definitely; can totally relate.

      And thank you for that last paragraph. It’s so true. I really appreciate your contribution. Take care and all the best to you.

  • Francis Meyrick

    Great quotes.
    Somewhere along the road, I learned there IS a “Fundamental Absurdity” to a lot of Life’s perceived goals and primary areas of focus. And somewhere along the road, I have learned to laugh at myself. Luckily, I have reason to do it a lot.
    “Moggy, Moggy, what you DO??”

    It was the captain. His voice up a full octave.

    I sighed. We had been through this routine before.

    I bowed my head.

    I explained. Humbly. Honestly. Surrounded by maniacal Chinese crew men. I’m not sure if they were carrying hatchets.

    They might have been.

    I explained the whole thing to the captain. Then I looked at the assembled throng. And I kind of…


    “Oops… Sorry….”
    (from “Barking Mad; Moggy, Moggy, what you DO??”)

    • Thanks, Moggy. Mmmmm, I’m going to have to read the rest of that piece. Cultural mistakes/differences have certainly made me feel foolish/incompetent. One needs humor then as never before. Cheers.

  • You picked a bunch of great people to quote. Never heard the Joseph Campbell one—brilliant.