16 Principles of Happiness from the 16th President

You likely know that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States. You also probably know that he led the country to reunion, winning the Civil War and that he authored the Emancipation Proclamation.

This much, I’m sure you know.

What you may not know is that Lincoln also struggled with bouts of depression, especially after the loss of his 11-year-old son, Willie, to Typhoid Fever. To make matters worse, he had a wife who would fly into fits of violent rage and verbal abuse from time to time. Some thought she was literally crazy.

Here (and in 8 more posts to come), President Lincoln speaks from the grave about life lessons that apply to our pursuit of happiness. He learned a few lessons struggling with his own.

Click on any of the posts in this series for further reading:

Lessons about Happiness from Honest Abe

1. “All my life I have tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower wherever the flower would grow in thought and mind.”

How many thistles do you have infesting the soil of your mind? Negativity, pessimism, whining, complaining, seeing ulterior motive and conspiracy in everyone, self-doubt, distrust, criticism, anger, impatience, hatred, bigotry, racism, intolerance, bad attitude, depression. There are so many thistles that nip and prick and poke and jab and bleed us of our happiness.

If you suffer from any of these thistles of the mind or heart or soul, choose one and pluck it out, work on it, learn the devices and tools, the resources and methods for ridding the weed from your life once and for all (or at least weaken it significantly).

And begin replacing the thistles by planting the flowers of optimism, positivity, gratitude, grace, trust, wonder, joy, hope, wisdom, love, kindness, compassion, helpfulness, forgiveness, patience, faith, charity, clarity, knowledge, affection and confidence.

2. “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”

So often we solidify and calcify our positions around wrong assumptions and predictions. We don’t take the time to research and investigate, to hear both sides of the story, to try to see the issue from the other’s perspective. We jump to conclusions and so often assume the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, and do the wrong thing. Instead, stop. Listen and learn from others. Make sure you are in the right.

And then, and only then, with grace and humility and compassion, stand firm. As has been said, those who do not stand for something will fall for anything. Instead, be true to your values. Have integrity to fundamental principles. The alternative is a wishy-washy non-commitment to whatever floats your boat at the moment. Not a very noble life. And not one that strikes me as very happy either.

3. “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Preparation is critical to all we do. Do you want a happy marriage? Sharpen the axe – and no, I don’t mean it the way it sounds! Prepare for a happy marriage! Learn the traits that lend themselves to a happy marriage. Treat your spouse in a way that will encourage happiness. Overcome pride and selfishness and develop compassion and understanding. When these traits are dull, we spend a lot of time hacking at the problems of life to little effect. Instead sharpen the qualities of character that will help create the marital bliss you desire.

To maintain and grow happiness, we need to sharpen the axe in the form of developing those qualities that will produce the joy we seek. Invest in your education. Build your human capital. Buy the books. Listen to the tapes. Go to the seminars and conferences. Read the manuals and websites and blogs. Develop your skills and talents. Hone your abilities and grow your character. Life will be more rewarding and fulfilling. You will feel more confident and accomplished. And life will be more richly happy.

4. “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

Accepting reality is the first step to overcoming trials and difficulties. Mountains can’t be climbed by denying they’re even there. Character flaws can’t be changed by pretending we don’t have them. And the deepest most fulfilling kind of happiness can’t be discovered and developed by denying there is anything better than the life you are currently living.

5. “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”

Not only is life dynamic – expanding, rotating, revolving, rising, setting, ebbing, flowing, replicating, dying, growing, evolving – we too were meant to be dynamic. Growth is a fundamental characteristic of life. Stagnant people, who sink into the routine of sameness, will find happiness fleeting at best. The reason is that the process of improving, learning, becoming, developing, evolving as a person, is itself a richly rewarding experience. Moral, intellectual and emotional stagnation takes life for granted, refuses the great gift of time and opportunity and wastes such resources in a sort of flagrant refusal to live up to, or even try moving toward, our potential. Not a happy proposition.

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Click on any of the posts in this series for further reading: