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A Little Happier: Some Brilliant, Short Observations About Human Nature


Because I love proverbs, true rules, teaching stories, Secrets of Adulthood, and aphorisms, I’m writing my own book of aphorisms, and also collecting my favorites written by other people.

One of my favorite aphorists is the writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (muhREE von EEBnuh eshenbock, who lived from 1830-1916.

As with all my favorite writers of aphorisms, I don’t always agree with what she writes, but I find her observations to be extremely thought-provoking.

Here are some of my favorites: 

  • “You can sink so fast that you think you’re flying.”
  • “It takes less courage to be the only one to find fault than to be the only one to find favor.”
  • “The moral code which was good enough for our fathers is not good enough for our children.”
  • “Power is duty; freedom is responsibility.” When I was growing up in Kansas City, I went to a school that had the motto “Freedom with Responsibility,” so this really resonates with me.
  • “People for whom we are a source of strength give us our support in life.”
  • “It is easy to bear the severest blame if we feel that he who blames would rather praise.” My old friend Kim Scott wrote a terrific book, Radical Candor, and she makes this point as well.
  • “In most cases, as far as a young talent is concerned, the family is either a hot-house or a fire extinguisher.”
  • “A lazy person and an industrious person cannot live together well—the lazy one despises the industrious one too much.”
  • “Where can one find two things which are so opposite and yet so closely related, so dissimilar and yet so often indistinguishable from one another as modesty and pride.” What does it mean to be modest, what does it mean to be prideful? I think about these questions often.
  • “The ambrosia of earlier centuries is the daily bread of later times.”
  • “As soon as a fashion has caught on, it has outlived itself.”
  • “We are never so grateful as for gratitude.”
  • “Hedonism devours everything but most of all happiness.”
  • “When a firework is set off, no one looks at the starry sky.” This reminds me of one of my favorite ancient Greek philosopher Xenopahnes: "If God had not made brown honeymen would think figs far sweeter than they do."

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