I love reading lists of happiness tips from days of yore — for example, I loved Sydney Smith’s nineteen tips for cheering yourself up, from two hundred years ago.
Here’s another olde liste, from 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.” Agree, disagree?
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.” This is very, very hard for me. I’m a real know-it-all.
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.” As an under-buyer, I have to remind myself of this.
7. “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” I disagree here. 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?