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.

The most important self-help book I’ve ever read

“I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish.” — Dale Carnegie

There are a bazillion self-help books out there, all of which tell you what you can do about yourself to make your life more wonderful.  I’ve dipped into many of them and, while some had useful factoids, and some were more charmingly written than others, I don’t think any self-help book has ever contained a more important message than the original self-help book:  Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People, written in 1936, at the height of the Great Depression.

Stripped of its charming anecdotes, Carnegie’s message was a simple one:  you can improve your own life by making other people feel good about theirs.  That’s it.  Carnegie did not advocate sycophantic flattery or lies.  He simply said that most people want others to think well of and appreciate them.  Show other people that you do indeed feel this way about them and their work, and they will be happy to demonstrate to you the best side of their personality and the best work that they do.

The world would be a much better, and very much nicer, place if more people heeded Carnegie’s lesson.