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Personal life (or everyday life or human existence) is the course of an individual human's life, especially when viewed as the sum of personal choices contributing to one's personal identity. It is a common notion in modern existence – although more so in more prosperous parts of the world, such as Western Europe and North America, where there are service industries designed to help people improve their personal lives via counselling or life coaching.

In the past, technology largely alleviated the problem of economic scarcity, most people spent a large portion of their time simply attempting to stay alive. Survival skills were necessary for the sake of both self and community; food needed to be harvested and shelters needed to be maintained. There was little privacy in a community, and people were identified by their social role. Jobs were assigned out of necessity rather than personal choice.

Furthermore, individuals in many ancient cultures primarily viewed their self-existence under the aspect of a larger social whole, often one with mythological underpinnings which placed the individual to relation to the cosmos [1]. People in such cultures found their identity not through their individual choices - indeed, they may not have been able to conceive a choice which was purely individual. Such individuals, if asked to describe themselves, would speak of the collective of which they were part: the tribe, the Church, the nation.

Even now, survival issues are still dominant in many countries and societies. For example, the continents of Africa and Asia are still largely mired in poverty and third-world conditions, without technology, secure shelter, or reliable food sources. In such places, the concepts of a "personal life," "self-actualization," "personal fulfillment," or "privacy" are largely unaffordable luxuries.

The notion of a personal life, as now understood, is in part a creation of modern Western society. In the United States, especially, privacy is highly valued. Since the colonial period, Americans have been noted for their individualism and their pursuit of self-definition. Indeed, the two central American documents -- the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution -- explicitly raise the pursuit of happiness and the expectation of privacy to the level of rights.

In modern times, many people have come to think of their personal lives as separate from their work (see also Marx's theory of alienation). Work and recreation are distinct; one is either on the job or not, and the transition is abrupt. Employees have certain hours they are bound to work, and work during recreational time is rare. This may be related to the continuing specialization of jobs and the demand for increased efficiency, both at work and at home. The common phrase "Work hard, play hard" illustrates this mindset. There is a growing trend, however, toward living more holistically and minimizing such rigid distinctions between work and play.

Taken as a whole, a life may be characterized as morally "good" or "bad", either by the one who has lived it or by outside observers. Exceptional lives may, at least in part, find literary reflection in a biography, an autobiography or a memoir. Some outstanding lives merit hagiography or a vita.

Life's progression from birth to death is not a mere succession of moments. Many people give definition to their lives by clarifying their life purposes, and separating their actions toward the achievement of these into discrete strands: their "intellectual lives", their "working lives", their "family lives" and their "sex lives". The religiously inclined may have "spiritual lives" or "religious lives" intertwined with their everyday activities; many also expect an afterlife, which they may see as more important than temporal concerns. In the interim, those who can afford to pause and to do so may adopt a lifestyle or assess their quality of life.

An individual who is inclined to be introspective may second-guess his or her life choices. One may be told by friends and acquaintances to "get a life" - in the sense of promoting fuller participation in socially approved activities, often outside the private sphere. More broadly, certain modern cultures, some defined by state or corporate agencies, encourage individuals to submerge the personal identity in a greater whole: communism or other totalizing ideologies, mass movements, and even sports fandom are manifestations of this phenomenon, though differing vastly in degree. In this way, the ancient sensibility, which viewed collective identity as more important than personal identity, is returning to prominence in contemporary life.


  1. Percy, Walker. Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000. pp. 109-112. (see also the discussion of how this contrasts with contemporary life, on the following pages)

See also

Further reading

External links

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