Writings and sayings that have changed the way I live my life

There are a few things I’ve read or heard that have completely changed the way I live my life.  The first and most important was Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People. His light, accessible prose completely changed my life. I started looking at the people around me, not as adversaries whom I had to fight for resources (including such intangibles as friendship and popularity), but as collaborators in a giant project that sees all of us wanting to get ahead.  I am not exaggerating when I say that I became a nicer, kinder person overnight, and, moreover, one who truly believes that the majority of people I meet are interesting and have something good to offer me if I’m willing to be generous in return.  By the way, being generous doesn’t necessarily mean money.  It can mean interest, respect, friendship, friendliness, or myriad non-monetary ways to let people know you value them.

The next important thing I read was Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice, a book that helped me gain a bit of perspective about the (to me) overwhelming life choices I was making in my 20s.  My copy has disintegrated, and I have not bought another one, so pardon any errors I make as working from my memory here.  The book’s structure is a little unusual, as the narrator, Noel, is the lawyer for a young woman named Jean Paget.  He meets her after the war because he is the executor of a will that leaves her a legacy.

The first part of the book has Jean describe to Noel her experiences as a prisoner of war held by the Japanese in Malaya, a time of great hardship and personal tragedy.  The second part of the book is about Jean’s life after the war, and the way in which her wartime experiences end up profoundly influencing not only her life, but many other people’s lives as well.

At the end of the first half of the book, when Jean sees herself facing a bleak and lonely future, she concludes her narrative to Noel by saying “four years of my life wasted.”  Noel responds to the effect that we can never tell which of our life experiences truly matter.  The second half of the book, of course, shows the truth in Noel’s observation.

For me, Noel’s simple statement was a stunning truth:  I cannot control the future.  My responsibility is to make the best decisions I can now, and then to make the best of whatever effects those decisions have upon my life.  And that’s all I can do.  It was a simultaneously freeing and empowering revelation.

The last important thing I learned actually came by word of mouth, when a friend told me, with regard to my children “catch them being good.”  Wow!  Viewing my children as great human beings who occasionally fell off the path of goodness was better than viewing them as horrible little monsters who were good only rarely.  We now have what I can only describe as a great parent-child relationship, and I do believe they are genuinely good people.  How lucky I am.

I’ve read other things that have changed profoundly the way I approach my life, but I cannot summon them to mind as easily as I can the three I describe above.  Just yesterday, though, I read something that I might add to my canon of life-changing thoughts.  It came from John Hawkins who wrote a post at PJ Media entitled 5 Simple Hacks That Changed My Life.

What John describes are intellectual approaches to changing the way you view ordinary life experiences such as receiving criticism, making decisions, facing up to mistakes, etc.  Each of his suggestions helps your mind overcome its baser instincts (those being, for example, dealing with criticism through attack or collapse; dealing with difficult decisions by avoiding them entirely; or refusing to address mistakes because it’s too emotionally painful to do so).  Everything John writes is simple to understand and easy to undertake, but all five of his approaches enable us to bypass the barriers we erect in our own lives.  I urge you to read it.

Also, I would love it if you would share with me any simple, yet profound, insights that enabled you to deal with problems, turn your life around, achieve greater happiness, etc.  I am a big believer in reprogramming my brain so that I use new ideas to overcome old problems that arise from my personality issues.

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  • JKB

    Perhaps it was the time, as I struggled to understand nuclear physics, but the movie ‘War Games’ gave me a line I remembered from time to time over the years.  “Strange game, the only way to win is not to play”.  This has come in handy on occasion when I needed a reminder to step out of the havoc of the moment and view the big picture.  It’s come in handy to when I’ve been beset and need to realize I couldn’t win if I let others call the game.

    I enjoyed, ‘A Natural History of the Senses’ by Diane Ackerman.  The author discusses the senses giving a description of life of those who have lost the sense and those who have acuteness.  It renewed my wonder in the senses and, therefore, sensation.  I still reflect back on occasion to enliven my sensing of the world.

  • yara

    During a hard time in my life, I was reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s space opera/romance “Cordelia’s Honor”.  Towards the end, Cordelia says:

    “But I’ve always thought- tests are a gift.  And great tests are a great gift. To fail the test is a misfortune.  But to refuse the test is to refuse the gift, and something worse, more irrevocable, than misfortune.”

    At the time, I added a corollary: “Some tests cannot be refused” 

  • Mike Devx

    “Don’t assume that people are dumber than you”

    Which basically means, if you intend to lie or deceive or dissemble or offer a false excuse, and you think you get away with it, maybe you didn’t get away with it.  Maybe they were just too nice to call you on it.

    Building up a reputation for repeatedly lying, even for the small stuff – or perhaps especially for the small stuff – means you will not be trusted.

  • Danny Lemieux

    When I was a callow young man, a good friend observed, “it really doesn’t take much effort to be able to say two small words, ‘thank you'”.

    It  has made a huge difference in my life.

  • Tonestaple

    I heard some mention on the radio of a book of supposed “ancient Toltec wisdom.”  They were discussing the main points of the book and it seems that one of them was “Don’t take anything personally.”  I immediately said to myself, I do that all the damn time.  I should stop doing that.  It took a few months for that idea to be really and truly internalized, and sometimes I still slip, but it changed my life.  I hardly ever get angry.  I can listen to discussions of my short-comings without getting angry.  I can do anything, go anywhere without find people quite so annoying.

    If I were the victim of a crime, I’m not at all sure I could be so above-it-all, even though there are few things as impersonal as being the victim of a crime, but I can manage with just about anything short of that.

    Don’t take anything personally.