By Laura A. Roser

Henry David Thoreau on Living Deliberately

In his seminal work, Walden (first published in 1854), Thoreau wrote:

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.

Anyone can find fault – the richest and the poorest, the most beautiful and the ugliest, the hungry and the well-fed. Once our minds focus on negative attributes, there’s no end to the material we can come up with. It’s easy to get in the habit of this. Get in the car (the steering wheel’s too hot!), pull into traffic (why do people put stupid stickers on their bumpers?), watch a guy ride by on his bike (he should not wear white spandex), switch the radio station (commercials are the worst), order coffee from the drive-thru (the barista’s too peppy), and so it goes. A life that is made up of moments of complaints.

The good news is we can use this same ability to amplify positive thoughts. Walk in the house (oh, what a wonderful smell), kiss your spouse (how good it is to have someone to greet me each night), wash the dishes (what a perfect time to reflect on good things that happened today), and so on.

According to Thoreau, living in a hovel with cheering thoughts is better than living in a palace with negative thoughts. It is in our thoughts that true living happens. He advises:

Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts … Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.

Although finding fault can be helpful – after all, how would you ever determine your preferences? – if one wishes to live happily, he or she must learn how to turn off the insidious fault-finding relating to circumstances that cannot be changed. Your life is a paradise, but it’s all in your head.

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by Laura A. Roser
CEO and Founder of Paragon Road
#1 Expert in Meaning Legacy Planning