Socrates : The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living

Socrates was a teacher in Greece. His most famous quote is — the unexamined life is not worth living. This quote sounds easy because it’s straightforward but it is not. The quote is enigmatic as Socrates himself was. What does this contrarian quote have to do with living a life? The Socrates quote is a bit difficult to understand directly. It may be easier to start with a preliminary: The examined life is worth living.

In school, examinations are conducted to check how much students have learned. They have to answer the questions. Then, the teacher “examines” answers and according to the quality of answers, students get grades which determine how well they have done in the exams.

Similarly, you need to examine life so that you can know how are you going and doing in life.

The unexamined life is not worth living because…

You have to question and find the answers about life by yourself. Most people live mediocre living because they are not even aware that they need to examine life. If by chance if they do it, then they don’t know how to do it, so they try to copy the life of others just like they copied homework in school. Their life is based on the opinion of others, not knowing that everyone is unique, so their life and answers to its questions.

The unexamined life is not worth living because here a person doesn’t examine his life. He does not really know and understands himself. And this is what Socrates tried to say. If you don’t examine your life, then you would not question and then miss on the answers to make it worth living.

“Our lives are but specks of dust falling through the fingers of time. Like sands of the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” ~ Socrates

What if you don’t examine your life?

So, there are two choices — to make it worth living or passively live an ordinary life. Both kinds of life have got its own challenges. Worth living life challenges are made by you which makes you strong, alive and happy. In ordinary life, you avoid challenges and passively accept everything which comes to you.

Signs you are living an unexamined life

  • Happiness mostly depends on external factors.
  • Not sure of what to do and what not to do.
  • Have regrets and hopelessness from the past.
  • A lot of time spent on TV, mobile, movies and social media.
  • There are more talks about other people and food.
  • Competition with others.
  • Dependence on opinions and advises of others.
  • Don’t have any goals or plan in life.

“Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live.” ~ Socrates

Characteristics of an Examined Life

  • There is progress in life.
  • The focus is on personal development.
  • Have clarity, values and internal compass.
  • Competition with self.
  • Talks are on ideas rather than people.
  • Happiness depends on personal decisions and choices.
  • Have goals and vision for the future.
  • The focus is on finding the unexplored potential, talents, and creativity.

“When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.” ~Thoreau

Why don’t people examine their lives?

Now, who should teach us to examine our lives? Our learning mostly happens at home by parents and at school. If the school teaches to examine lives, our lives would have been much different and better.

Another reason, most people avoid leading an examined life. It’s not that they don’t have the time, they actively avoid examining their lives. Because it is not easy to think. It is hard to look inside. It takes a lot of courage to look inside and accept yourself with all your failures, guilt and disappointments.

The Examined Life

“Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued.” — Socrates

“Most people, including ourselves, live in a world of relative ignorance. We are even comfortable with that ignorance because it is all we know. When we first start facing the truth, the process may be frightening, and many people run back to their old lives. But if you continue to seek the truth, you will eventually be able to handle it better. In fact, you want more! It’s true that many people around you now may think you are weird or even a danger to society, but you don’t care. Once you’ve tasted the truth, you won’t ever want to go back to being ignorant.” ~ Socrates

Your life may be in lots of confusion. And chances are it will go into more confusion on examining, but after clearing this confusion, your design of life will be infinitely better than it was unexamined. You substantially reduce the probability of mistakes and save valuable time. Your life is not difficult, your ignorance of examining life makes it difficult.

Living life is an art, most important art, difficult and complex, which is not taught in school and like every art, it takes time to learn.

“The really important thing is not to live but to live well. And to live well meant, along with more enjoyable things in life, to live according to your principles.” ~Socrates

How to examine your life?

“To find yourself, think for yourself” ~ Socrates

If you don’t create a map, no matter how fast you are going or how high is your confidence, without this map, you are directionless and clueless in life. The point is you’d still be lost. The fundamental problem has nothing to do with your behavior or attitude. It has everything to do with not having a map.

The map gives you an understanding of your location and destination. It means to know who you are, where you are now so that you move can ahead in the right direction.


It is only in striving to come to know ourselves and to understand ourselves do our lives have any meaning or value.

If there are two people, one with a map and one without a map, who has the better chance of reaching the destination? The one with the map, of course. When you begin to know yourself, you take control of life. You decide what you want to be and begin a revolution in life.

“Do not go through life like a leaf blown from here to there believing whatever you are told.” ~ Socrates

Note :

Now, somebody would say that they have seen people who have not examined their life but still are happy.

About a hundred years back, most of the people were living in the agricultural age, they had very simple lives. Like people in villages, remote areas today who are not aware of the issues and complexities of life. The answer to this question is that maybe they are blessed with their lives. If they don’t have access to modern inventions that doesn’t mean they are unhappy about it, in fact, they are probably more happy and healthy in their simple life. But we are probably not and that’s why we need to strive for it to make it beautiful, meaningful.

Originally published at on August 7, 2018.