Eighteen Tips that Aren’t, It Turns Out, From a Churchyard.

I was over at a friend’s house – for a meeting of one of my two children’s literature reading groups, in fact – where I saw her framed copy of “Desiderata.” (“Desiderata” is a Latin word meaning “things to be desired.”) I’d seen it before, but I’d never read more than the first few lines, and I was struck by the soundness of the suggestions.

I always thought Desiderata was an inscription in an old churchyard, but it was actually written by Max Ehrmann in 1927. This bit of information detracts from its mystique somewhat, but it’s still an interesting list.

1. Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.
2. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
3. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
4. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; for they are vexations to the spirit.
5. If you compare yourself with others you may become bitter or vain, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
6. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
7. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
8. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery; but let this not blind you to what virtue there is.
9. Be yourself. [There it is, yet again, my First Commandment: Be Gretchen]
10. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
11. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
12. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune, but do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
13. Beyond a wholesome discipline be gentle with yourself.
14. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here, and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
15. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
16. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, be at peace with your soul. With all its shame, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
17. Be cheerful.
18. Strive to be happy.

My favorite is #18. You can’t always be happy, but you can strive to be happy. And it’s not selfish to strive to be happy — that’s Happiness Myth No. 10. Remember the Second Splendid Truth!

Speaking of inscriptions found (or not) in churchyards, here’s my own favorite gravestone inscription:

Remember, friends, as you pass by,
As you are now so once was I.
As I am now, so you must be.
Prepare yourself to follow me.

Which item do you find most important in your own life?

* Daniel Schawbel, of the popular Personal Branding Blog and author of the book Me 2.0, was nice enough to do an interview with me.

* Wait, have I mentioned that the book, The Happiness Project, is coming out soon? Well, yes. I have. Many times. And here I am, mentioning it again — and here’s the pre-order link.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • elizmck

    Simply wonderful! All of it. If you took out any component, it would be incomplete. Wise and practical.

  • SO funny that you posted this today! While I was waiting yesterday, I pulled a notebook out of my bag and found Desiderata written in there. I was sitting outside on a bench, the wind blowing the fall leaves around, and it was the most magical thing… I can’t even believe you’ve posted this today. It must be a sign that I really need to focus on living my life by these principles!

  • Fran

    Yuck. Is the numbered list the original form? The non-list version I’ve seen has a poetry to it that’s moving.

    This looks like my todo list.

    • Fran

      Rereading that, it was written very negatively for which I’m sorry. I’ve always loved Desiderada, but seeing it as a numbered list of tips just burned away the sense of stillness and peace that I’ve always felt when reading it.

  • gretchenrubin

    I’m sorry that putting it in “tips” form spoiled it for you.

    I had read it before, and somehow putting the numbers in made it fresh for me — and also made me see that these were actually things that could be put into action, not just general ideas.

    But I can see how numbering the points could make it look like a grocery list!

  • DonnaS

    I liked the list. It’s very timely, even though it was written in 1927. Also, more people should have gravestone inscriptions. It tells you a little something about who that person was.

  • larry3g

    I like no 18 too.
    As is pointed out, somethings are “Choices”
    Happiness is something we can choose and practice.
    Same goes for other traits we want to cultivate,
    Gentleness, Good Humor, Humility…
    the list could be very long,
    thats great stuff GR!

  • Kara

    The other day I thought someone was a vexation to my spirit and could not recall where I had heard the phrase. When I read your post I remembered. I also remembered that I read this poem to my class as my Valedictorian speech at High School graduation.

  • Jennifer

    This is the first time I’m posting, but I’ve been a long time reader of your fabulous blog. Thank you for posting this. #14 especially resonated with me. It was exactly what I needed to read.

  • Wow, that took me back! The spoken word version was BIG when I was growing up in the 70’s. I always loved hearing it, and I think it makes a fine list too. Thanks.

  • Julliet

    The only issue I have is, if you fall into the category of #4, then you can’t follow #9… how annoying.

  • Richard

    My favorite is Beyond all wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

    it’s way too easy to come down hard on yourself, that is the anti-happiness.

  • Richard

    My favorite is Beyond all wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

    it’s way too easy to come down hard on yourself, that is the anti-happiness.

  • Sonia

    You somehow always manage to post something extremely inspirational on the days when I most need it. I hadn’t read the Desiderata in many years but if anything it is even more comforting and meaningful to me now, while I’m in the midst of many difficult life changes. Thank you, Gretchen!

  • I came here by way of J.D. at Get Rich Slowly, and I love this blog! Great post – I think I will print out this list and stick it on my wall so I can read it every day. These are all excellent, but #16 jumped out at me:

    “And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, be at peace with your soul. With all its shame, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

    It’s very poetic.

  • Like Richard, I’m struck by “Beyond a wholesome discipline be gentle with yourself.” I think the “wholesome discipline” part appeals to my practical nature– it acknowledges that although it’s important to “be gentle with yourself,” there are still things that must be done and accomplished. And then, once they are, it’s okay to, say, take a nap…

  • LottieH

    I loved your favourite gravestone inscription, Gretchen – in fact I found it on a basic wooden sign, dating from the 19th century, next to the footpath in a small parish churchyard in Blewbury, a village in Oxfordshire, England. Dedicated by George Knapp to his family, it would have been a constant reminder to them every time they went to church….miserable old fella!

  • Thanks for this post! This is one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing. I think if I had to pick a favorite “item,” it would have to be #16. It IS a beautiful world, especially if you’ve found peace in your soul.

  • Christina

    I definitely enjoyed reading this. Thank you 🙂

  • I love everything written in the Desiderata. Actually, I have memorized them all. 🙂

  • Fred

    These are wonderful. Only changes I would make are to find a gentler reference to the dull and ignorant (#3) and wouldn’t assume God is aHim (#15).

  • eperich

    Muere Lentamente, a poem by Pablo Neruda is similar in that it is very profound and gives good advice not just on happiness, but also how to truly live.The original Spanish with a good English translation can be found here: arturovasquez.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/muere-lentamente/Highly recommended.

  • Fantastic post!!!

  • Stretch

    I love this list! Thank you.

  • allwomenstalker

    You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here, and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. -> I’ve always loved this.

    -meream

  • Liz

    Les Crane had a hit with Desiderata in 1971 … I remember buying a poster of it around that time too. It was huge, I suppose it was seen as a bit hippyish at the time.
    You can hear it here: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=2187

  • I’m with Richard – I like lucky #13 – Beyond a wholesome discipline be gentle with yourself.

    They are all good, and this is definitely a source I will be looking into myself. Have never heard of it, but love what you shared of it.

    Thank you!

  • Grace

    I love this in list form! Thanks for the reminder- I haven’t read this in years. In the early 70s, it seemed that everyone had aDesiderata poster on their wall.

  • I love Desiderata and turned it into an affirmation a while ago.

    http://www.cityintherain.com/poems/desiderata.html

    (Take the challenge — read it aloud.)

    I go placidly amid the noise and the haste, remembering what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, I am on good terms with all persons. I speak my truth quietly and clearly; and I listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant–they too have their story. I avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.

    I try not to compare myself with others, for I know there will always be greater and lesser persons than myself. I enjoy my achievements as well as my plans. I keep interested in my own career, knowing it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

    I exercise caution in my business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But I do not let this blind me to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. I am myself. I especially do not feign affection. Neither am I cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment I have seen it is perennial as the grass. I take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

    I nurture strength of spirit to shield myself in sudden misfortune. But I do not distress myself with dark imaginings. I know that many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, I am gentle with myself. I am a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; I have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to me, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore, I am at peace with the world. And whatever my current labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, I keep peace in my soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Therefore, I am cheerful. I strive to be happy.

  • Jpstinnett

    Thank you! I have never seen this before.
    It is just wonderful, #16 is resonating with me today.