My Ruminations of Living a Happy Life

Philip Kotler
5 min readOct 15, 2020

Ruminations on Living a Happy Life

Philip Kotler

Most of my life, I have been too busy to reflect on my life. There were so many things that I wanted to do. I knew that life was too short. I remember reading a book with the title “The Hundred Things You Must See.” I must see the Pyramids and Sphinx of Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Galapagos islands in Ecuador, the Taj Mahal in India, the Vatican and works of Michelangelo, and many others. I started to see these inspiring places. Sadly, I still have not seen most of them.

Life is about making choices. We have to decide what major activities to pursue and master. I now regret rejecting two major activities. First, I wish I had practiced and mastered a music instrument. Like many young persons, I was given piano lessons for a year. Making no progress, and finding better things to do, I gave up on piano lessons. My brother Milton took up the violin and he enjoyed learning to play and he developed a good understanding of music as a result. I never considered taking up another instrument. I now miss playing a clarinet or saxophone, joining or starting a band, and experience making music together. I look enviously at those who play chamber music or even who join a singing group.

The second choice would have been to get good at some sport. My father was a leading soccer player. He hoped that his three sons would play soccer. We enjoyed watching him play but we preferred to spend our time on other activities. I play a lot of tennis but I never hired a trainer. I was good enough. Looking back, I wish that I had become very good in tennis. At my age now, I should be playing golf which most of my friends play. I miss the camaraderie of sharing a game with others. Frankly, I decided that it was more important to develop my mind than my body. The thought of doing both never occurred to me.

What lessons can I give to others about growing older and not having too much regret?

· Give and you will get.

Persons can either behave as givers or takers. A giver will spend time with others, mentor them or invest in them, and get pleasure doing this. A taker spends time only with those who he can take something from, either by sharing in the person’s reputation, circle of friends, or use as a reference. I realize that I am mostly a giver, going out of my way to help a student or friend. Yet in other cases, I have been a taker. In the end, the giver gets back more than the taker.

· Favor the Common Good.

When I view an issue, such as “Medicare for All,” or raising taxes on the rich, I choose the side that will “create the greatest good for the greatest number.” I favor “Medicare for All” because more American citizens would receive better health care. I favor taxes on the rich because the government could put this money to helping the poor and this would not limit the lifestyles of the rich. My new book, entitled Strategies for Advancing the Common Good, will go deeply into the issue of making decisions that will help the most people.

· People can be moral without being religious.

From an early age, I became aware that all religions are man-made. Religions are created to give comfort to people. Many people need to believe that their lives are in the hands of a superior being who knows everything about each of them, rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior. I would need scientific proof to believe this, not inspired story telling. Too many religions, from Catholics who killed Jews during the Inquisition to Muslims who stone men and women and cut off their hands for a minor offense, end up doing as much harm as good. Most people will live a moral way, if not out of a strong sense of ethics, but just in wanting to be a trusted member of an ongoing community.

· Persons would be wise to engage in lifetime learning and hobbies.

Alvin Toffler, the famous futurist, said, “The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn.” The world is changing at an accelerating rate. One cannot be sure that their present job, company or even industry will exist. College graduates will probably have three or four careers, not one. A willingness to unlearn and relearn is more important than a willingness to stay where you are. A person ought to take up a hobby that engages them fully into their retirement. In the future, the average person will live to 100. The person will work from age 20 to 60, namely 40 years. That leaves another 40 years without working. The person has to be prepared to enjoy leisure for 40 years by reading, learning and hobbying. I wrote a paper for retired persons listing over 50 activities to enjoy in the last 40 years of life.

· Travel is mind opening.

The most narrow-minded people I know have never traveled. They live in the same community with the same friends saying the same boring things to each other. Let them go to India, China, or Africa. They would come back as very different and interesting people. On the other hand, let them enroll in a new course totally out of their interest and this can open their mind. I spent a few years with a movement call EST (Erhard Seminar Training) that opened my mind to new areas of human potential.

· Develop not only a purpose but also a higher purpose.

You will feel much better about yourself when you retire if you have put part of your life into creating happiness for others. Be able to list upon retiring all the good deeds that you have done. The longer the list, the more satisfied and enlightened you are.

· Get married or at least have great friends.

I married my 18 year-old girlfriend when I was 24. Nancy was at Radcliffe and I was at M.I.T. We now have three beautiful daughters and nine beautiful grandchildren. I can’t imagine not having my wonderful wife and extended family. Not marrying leaves one with parents, uncles and aunts, but not with a whole family of kids and grandchildren who care about each other and do everything possible to keep you happy in your old age.

I am glad that Douglas asked me to summarize my wisdom at my age of 87. I thought that I had done this in my biography published in 2017 called My Adventures in Marketing. Yes, it described my many experiences with well-known persons, my lecturing in many different favorite countries, the organizations I joined and enjoyed, and my collecting hobbies of glass and Japanese art. I didn’t take the time to write anything in that book about lessons learned. Douglas’s invitation provided a wonderful opportunity to reflect more deeply on what matters in one’s life.



Philip Kotler

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (emeritus)