How to End This Sentence? “There Is Certainly No Greater Happiness Than To…”

How would you end that sentence? Here’s how Dr. Johnson completed it:

“There is certainly no greater happiness than to be able to look back on a life usefully and virtuously employed, to trace our own progress in existence by such tokens that excite neither shame nor sorrow.”

–Samuel Johnson, “Rambler No. 41,” August 7, 1750

I love the work of Samuel Johnson. I was looking back through the draft of Better Than Before, my book about habit change, and I realized that I’d quoted him several times — and I cut out several more quotations, as well. (To pre-order Better Than Before, click here.)

What authors do you find yourself quoting most often?

  • penelope schmitt

    . . . be fully engaged in life at this present moment, lost in love or creation or satisfying work or admiration of the beauty around us, in the sense that we ‘deserve’ to be here, fully giving and receiving what our life offers us to do and experience.

    I am observing that my Mother, despite a life full of honored service, children, grandchildren and many joys as well as sorrows, seems to find very little satisfaction in looking back, but instead is caught up in endurance of the unpleasantness of this ending phase of her life. I take the lesson that I should learn to appreciate life here and now, and not torment myself with what we should have been or done nor what I must do to earn credit. Just to be in life at this moment, while I have the ability to appreciate the life I have, is enough. .

    • AnneMarie

      Well said Penelope.

    • peggynh

      Same with my 93 year old mom. Yes, there are terrible losses for her (vision, mobility, independence), but it amazes me that she gets so little pleasure from reflecting on a full and satisfying life. She is so angry that I sometimes think it’s keeping her alive. She is teaching me so much – about what I don’t want to be!

      • Trixie

        My mother died last month at 88, and my sister primarily had been caring for her, with me pitching in as much as possible. My mother also had lost her independence and mobility, was in a lot of physical pain and had to have a weekly procedure that was quite uncomfortable, and her mind (which had been as sharp as a tack just months before) was slipping. Her condition was going to continue to get worse instead of better.

        We’re often advised to live in the moment, but the moment wasn’t pleasant for her (yes, I know the moment is all we have, etc.). I don’t know how much consolation one can get from the past, either, under those conditions. She loved being able to watch her grandkids grow up, and she knew she’d be missing out on that. I think we imagine dying with grace and dignity, but until we are in that position, we don’t know how we will handle it. I hope to handle it well, but who knows? Every death is different. My dad seemed to stay the until the day he died, but his circumstances were different.

        Oh, and while not an author, I found myself quoting Roseanne Rosannadanna to my sister a couple of days ago: “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” My sister’s reply was, “Yes, but can’t we have those things one at a time instead of all together?”

    • Mimi Gregor

      I took care of my mother, too, towards the end of her life, and she had an incredible amount of anger as well. She had been a martyr all her life, doing things for others, making sacrifices for others, and I think that may have been part of it. Perhaps she looked back at her life, and instead of focusing on the good things that she accomplished, she concentrated on the regrets for the things she didn’t do and the sacrifices she made. I guess the object lesson here is to never put someone else’s happiness ahead of your own. For one thing, you can’t make another person happy, so it’s wasted effort. For another thing, if you are unhappy yourself, you are useless to the other person. The best way to “make” another person happy is to be happy yourself. Sometimes it can spread like a beneficial contagion. And if it doesn’t… well, at least one of you is happy!

      Yes… I know this now. Too bad I didn’t have this bit of wisdom at the time, but it was that experience that helped me to receive it.

    • Shelley

      The late Pope John Paul II endured right until the end, never leaving his post and being fully in view of the public, even with growing frailty and illness. My interpretation of this is that he wanted everyone to understand that there is always something valuable to be accomplished, by everyone, no matter how old and sickly. Your mother still has a purpose and there is still something useful for her to do! God bless both of you.

  • molly

    That’s a toughy. I cannot get down to one, but here are some thoughts.
    There is certainly no greater happiness than to:

    -see one’s children happy, sane, and healthy:)
    -accomplish a meaningful goal.
    -feel one’s creative juices being funneled into a task that feels “fit” for oneself.
    -have a good conversation with a cherished friend.
    -have a good conversation with someone whom one admires about something one cares about.

  • … reconcile uncertainty.

  • … witness my child experiencing a moment of deep joy.

    There are lots of ways to finish that sentence; this was the one that jumped to mind first.

  • Mimi Gregor

    …to live your life in the present moment, with neither guilt about the past nor anxiety about the future, and with focus on the things that are positive and appreciation for the pleasures in your daily life.

    Yeah, I have trouble with that myself, but it’s the ideal that I would like to live up to, and I am constantly doing battle with worry. This, despite the fact that when the things that I’ve worried about in the past actually happened (which is rarely), I managed to get through it and things usually became better for me as a result. And despite the fact that most of the time (I’d say 90% of the time), the things I worry about don’t happen anyway. I’m trying to change the way I think ( and worry does seem to stem from over-thinking things), and am reading every book I can get my hands on regarding this subject for something that will give me an “aha” moment and precipitate a worry-free life.

    I do manage to give more of my attention to the good things in my life and the simple pleasures of my everyday life: cooking a meal from scratch with the best possible ingredients and with love; taking a hot shower with a wildly scented sandalwood soap; watching the squirrels caper about on our deck. The little things, cumulatively, are so much more important than one gigantic good thing, such as a vacation. As you have said, Gretchen, what you do every day is more important than what you do once in a while. That really resonated with me, and that is one of the things that I’ve tried to put into practice in my own life.

    • Andrew in MI

      Perfectly stated. Thank you for that.

  • Trace

    crl up with a good book

  • Maggie

    There is no greater happiness than to snuggle with your kids on a Saturday morning when nobody has to get up in a hurry.
    What author do I end up quoting most often? In the last year, definitely you Gretchen!!

    • gretchenrubin

      Wow – that’s nice to hear.

      • Maggie

        my husband recently said that he feels like he read the Happiness Project himself, he has heard so many quotes from it ..

        • gretchenrubin

          Aww that’s nice to hear.

  • Dianne Ochiltree

    For some reason, Henry David Thoreau. My first high school term paper topic was the transcendentalism movement in America and his contribution to it. Thoreau has resonated with me for a very long time.


    • Maggie

      ah that is so yesterday

  • The future is now.

  • S.ikeda

    My favorite quote comes from a former boss – “This too shall pass.” Not sure where it’s from (the Bible?) but the day she said it to me was a stressful day. I thought I was going to lose my job due to my bungling of an assignment. She must’ve known how badly I felt and she reassured me with the above quote. I share it with others when they are bogged down with worry, doubt, and stress.

  • Skulling Girl

    have the confidence in myself, and the lack of caring as to what others think, so that I could jump full force into that great, hot mess of exciting work and service that is my purpose: To Live and Create Girl Power.
    Wow, felt pretty good just to write that down.

  • spend a day driving through the beautiful Oregon mountains with my husband. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the to do lists and unfinished projects will always be there and what really matters in life are those we love and who love us. This is a very hard lesson for me as I have always been an extreme “doer”.

  • Robin

    no greater happiness than….to be true to yourself, to feel loved and to be content.

  • T Alison

    …be held with love.

  • bakersfieldmom

    to be authentic to yourself.

  • yeshiembet/yeshi gemaneh

    Every person have their own path and way of thinking. When it comes to happiness – there is no greater happiness than to be myself. I like my identity and remain the same. In addition happiness to me is not possessing material: My health, my children, my family to be healthy and alive. To avoid mind from ideal. In addition, to have peaceful and loving environment. Since I am in my senior years I love to finish it positively. I love to read good books and the Bible that would help me to remain positive. Again, it is better if we leave all the judgments to God and keep on living piece by piece.