They were spoken by Hamlet when he was thinking aloud, and they are the most famous words in Shakespeare because Hamlet was speaking not only for himself but also for every thinking man and woman. To be or not to be, to live or not to live, to live richly and abundantly and eagerly, or to live dully and meanly and scarcely. A philosopher once wanted to know whether he was alive or not, which is a good question for everyone to put to himself occasionally. He answered it by saying: “I think, therefore am.”
But the best definition of existence ever saw did another philosopher who said: “To be is to be in relations.” If this true, then the more relations a living thing has, the more it is alive. To live abundantly means simply to increase the range and intensity of our relations. Unfortunately we are so constituted that we get to love our routine. But apart from our regular occupation how much are we alive? If you are interest-ed only in your regular occupation, you are alive only to that extent. So far as other things are concerned–poetry and prose, music, pictures, sports, unselfish friendships, politics, international affairs–you are dead.
Contrariwise, it is true that every time you acquire a new interest–even more, a new accomplishment–you increase your power of life. No one who is deeply interested in a large variety of subjects can remain unhappy; the real pessimist is the person who has lost interest.
Bacon said that a man dies as often as he loses a friend. But we gain new life by contacts, new friends. What is supremely true of living objects is only less true of ideas, which are also alive. Where your thoughts are, there will your live be also. If your thoughts are confined only to your business, only to your physical welfare, only to the narrow circle of the town in which you live, then you live in a narrow cir-conscribed life. But if you are interested in what is going on in China, then you are living in China~ if you’re interested in the characters of a good novel, then you are living with those highly interesting people, if you listen intently to fine music, you are away from your immediate surroundings and living in a world of passion and imagination.