Seven Tips for “Pleasing in Company” — from 1774.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Seven tips for “pleasing in company,” from 1774.

I love reading lists of happiness tips from days of yore — for example, Sydney Smith’s nineteen tips for cheering yourself up, from two hundred years ago.

Lord Chesterfield, a British statesman and man of letters, was very preoccupied with worldly success. In his Letters, he bombards his son with advice about how to succeed in society. Samuel Johnson remarked that these letters “teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master” — not exactly a rousing endorsement.

Nevertheless, I think Lord Chesterfield has some provocative insights. Here’s an assortment of his advice:

1. “Pleasing in company is the only way of being pleased in it yourself.”

2. “The very same thing may become either pleasing or offensive, by the manner of saying or doing it.”

3. “Even where you are sure, seem rather doubtful; represent, but do not pronounce, and if you would convince others, seem open to conviction yourself.”

4. “You will easily discover every man’s prevailing vanity, by observing his favourite topic of conversation; for every man talks most of what he has most a mind to be thought to excel in.”

5. “The sure way to excel in any thing, is only to have a close and undissipated attention while you are about it; and then you need not be half the time that otherwise you must…”

6. “Dress is a very foolish thing, and yet it is a very foolish thing for a man not to be well dressed.”

7. “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”

I have to disagree with Chesterfield on #7. As part of my resolution to “Enjoy the fun of failure,” I’ve taken up the motto, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” There’s merit to both approaches. Once again, it happens, the opposite of a great truth is also true.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with his advice?

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • It is certainly both true that “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” AND that “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” . I see no contradiction here. If it’s worth doing at least do it! So many times we wait till be can to it great – so many times that time never comes. As Nike says – JUST DO IT!

  • jillrichardson

    I’m so glad you said that about #7. As a ‘recovering perfectionist’ with one child with depression, I know how much damage can be done by an insistence on doing everything well. We live in an area where there is so much pressure on our kids to excel at everything, and it is also an area with an extremely high rate of teenage depression. Coincidence? I think not.

  • At the risk of being redundant…

    How would we know what success is if we never knew failure?

    Who defines failure or success?

    I agree with #7. I heard someone say “Trying is doing something you never had the intention of doing”

    Cheers,
    Rishi Pathani

  • “Dress is a very foolish thing, and yet it is a very foolish thing for a man not to be well dressed.” I love the humor here! Reminds me of Steve Buscemi

    Project Management Collaboration

  • I agree with you about #7. My husband once tried boxing as a form of exercise, loved it, but gave up because he said he didnt have enough time to become great at it. I wanted him to just do it with whatever time he had, it made him happy! But then, it doesn’t make him happy to not be able to really put the full effort into something he likes, so maybe, as you say, it goes both ways.

    I don’t entirely see how #6 relates to happiness. Although, I do feel better when I think I look better..

    My favorite is #3. I need to work on that. Thanks!

  • flossattrocbrocandrecup

    I like point 3 but I think it’s very British! I teach English to Anglophone pupils, but not all of them are culturally British – many are American, French or of varying other mixed nationalities. I find that we British seek to convince people by our diffidence, but that the French and Americans find that rather weak. I’d be interested to know what others think.

    • jenny_o

      I’ve been thinking about this lately, so it was interesting to find it here today. I see this as a kind of diplomacy which good company and good conversationalists have learned to cultivate. In my opinion, it is tiresome to have a conversation – or, worse, an evening of it – with someone who is sure that everything he/she says is the final word on the subject! I need to work on this skill, by the way . . .

    • Jilly

      I also find #3 intriguing, there is some truth in being seen to propose what you think is true as versus proclaiming it. No one likes to be lectured at, even if the lecturer is sure, and it certainly does not promote discussion or an exchange of ideas.

  • Interesting tips. I think I agree with you about failure. I think it is often worth doing things even if we do not do them well. There is indeed something cultivating and compelling about failure. I also find the bit about dress to be fascinating. How much should we care about dress, about aesthetics? On the one hand these things seem foolish and frivolous. On the other hand, these things seem important.

    (Thanks again so much for kicking off Happier Hours last night… It was a magical evening and I know you inspired so many. There was one book left somehow and I am giving it away on my blog today. I have no doubt that it will make some lucky reader very happy!)

  • Another great, equally true contradiction is that “Being pleased by company is the only way of pleasing in it.” IOW, other people will enjoy you more if you enjoy being around them!

  • sabinavavra

    #6 is my personal favorite…thanks for sharing, made me smile.

  • Tip #4 really made me think, as has your entire book, Gretchen (although I’m only on April). One thing I’ve been thinking about is how hard so many of us try to excel in things that don’t really come naturally. I love how you walked away from the law when it wasn’t the right fit — what courage, considering how much you had achieved.

    I was not happy in my career as a litigator, and I am so glad that I found the right match in the legal academy. Further, I am now realizing that it has been a blessing to have taken the particular job that I did (not as prestigious as some but very broad in its definition of scholarship). I’m writing a book about modern motherhood, the subject closest to my heart. I look forward to meeting with students! I enjoy presenting in the classroom.

    Your book has really stirred my imagination, and what I love most about this particular tip is that it is directive. My life experience has shown me that I need to do what comes naturally — doing that brings me the greatest joy.

    So glad to have found your book and blog!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m thrilled to hear that my work resonates with you. Good luck with YOUR
      book and teaching.

  • lena00123

    Your article is nice.Thanks for your sharing,it helps me more.I will look forward to your more wonderfull articles.Have a good time.

  • It would make me sooo happy if my partner adopted number 3!
    I’m going to have to slyly post this to my facebook and hope he reads and gets the hint…

    And number 6 is my fave!
    Even when wearing my crap weekend clothes I think it’s important to somehow pull it together nicely…makes me feel good.

  • howardpetree

    I believe that both your comment about #7 and #7 itself can be true. Once you begin to do something, the first time may not be done well. But, the more you do something, the skill may be honed to a perfection as Lord Chesterfield may have intended for his son but was not stated here. It may have an additional connotation of “Try your best”. If one tries his best and fails the first time, so be it. At least that person can say they did it well the first time. And, if they’ve learned something from that experience, their next time will be even better, assuming they do their best once again utilizing their newfound knowledge on the subject.

  • kjcannon

    Just wanted to let you know that a professor of mine is doing research on happiness and I pointed him toward your book and blog…haven’t reconnected with him yet about it, but I’m sure he’ll love it as much as I do! (Btw, is it wrong to feel great about having checked off an item on the day’s list by passing that info along to him? No?! Oh good. Gold star for me!)

    • gretchenrubin

      Gold star! Thanks for helping to spread the word about The Happiness
      Project! I so appreciate that.

  • Oh I absolutely LOVE this post and this list! Thank you so much for sharing and posting it.

    This is great advice, especially if taken as is and applied to today’s society.

    Smile & the world will smile with you I say 🙂

  • Very nice tips! Even though I know failure is essential for success, I still think number 7 counts. May as well aim to do it well, if it fails, oh well. 🙂

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  • You would think that his advice would be dated and smell of “old” but this is actually very timeless advice. I like how you rephrased #7 and I totally agree but I do think that you should try your best at everything you undertake….failure or success is neither here are there….the question should be: Did you do well (your best)?