We've Seen Lincoln on the Penny; Now let’s hear him on Happiness!

How can we find greater joy in life? How can we construct a happier way of thinking and interacting with the world? The 16th President of the Unites States saved the Union and emancipated the slaves. He also had some wise things to say that apply to our collective pursuit of happiness.
Read on to see what I mean.

(continuing here from 16 Principles of Happiness from the 16th President #1-5)

Principle #6: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” 

A happy life is a life filled with meaningful activities and meaningful relationships. It’s a life of purpose and passion. What can you do to add meaning to your life? What can you do to fill life with passion? Answer these questions and get started today on a journey of self-discovery. You will start to feel happier the sooner you start putting more “life in your years.”

Principle #7: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

While there is no denying the world has its share of Hitlers and Bin Ladens, I nonetheless believe deeply that most people are redeemable.

There are people who on the surface seem angry and prideful, arrogant and devious. But if you take the time to look beneath the surface, you’ll realize that most people have a multi-layered nature that reveals a life or a side of their character or personality or a past that turns on a light of understanding and can even lead to love and compassion for the person.

But even if not, you can usually find they can teach you a lesson or two about life – whether in the positive or the negative.

Anecdotal evidence: Years ago, there was a woman in my neighborhood who was angry, bitter and cold. She would mostly mind her own business except when said hello to. Then she would oddly scowl at the would-be do-gooder. I never did learn her story, but I decided to make it a goal to crack her hardened exterior.

So every day that I would pass her house (she was always out doing yard work), I would smile and say hello. I did this without fail for about three months, nearly 5 days a week. Not once did I ever get a return hello or even a smile back or a nod or any recognition other than an occasional frown or angry stare-down.

Then I went on vacation for a week or two. And it happened. It was like magic. When I came back and headed past her house the next day, she stopped me and said hello … to me … without a gun in her hand. It was absolutely amazing, but hopefully didn’t show the amazement too obviously.

I was also filled with a sense of gratitude. I was thankful I could be part of the cracking of the exterior of a fellow human being. Then, with a huge grin, she asked me where I had been! From then on, she became a pleasant feature on my daily walk to college.

You see, beneath most prickly exteriors is a softer side. Get to know the softer interior and you’ll likely start liking the whole person more.

Principle #8: “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”

Paradoxically, self-deprecating humor can make you happier!

It can diffuse hostile situations and lighten otherwise stressful moments and cause smiles and chuckles and even outright laughter. It is a disarming and even charming sort of humor when it is done tastefully and without a sense that the person self-deprecating actually feels sad about the condition being joked about. It is important, therefore, to use self-deprecating humor from a place of confidence, not as a real putdown.

But regardless, the self-deprecating kind or not, humor is important to happiness. Humorless people, almost by definition, find life less enjoyable. If everything is taken seriously, life will be a drudge, scraping from one moment into the next with more dullness or resentment or frustration.

So lighten up and have some fun at your own expense! Don’t take yourself so seriously. Believe me when I say no one else does! Besides, if done in the right light, more happiness is all but guaranteed.

Principle #9: “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

Are you a procrastinator? Do you keep finding reasons to put things off, to delay getting started? I do. Most of us do to one degree or another. As a matter of fact … well … I guess I’ll just tell you about it later. 🙂

But I also know that I simply prolong the misery of a distasteful task when I push it off to the ever-receding horizon of Later. Stress and anxiety are prolonged and the time-frame available to complete the project shrinks, further adding stress and anxiety and frustration to the task.

Frustration and anxiety can undermine happiness and peace of mind the longer we wait to get a thing started. Besides, the perception of the task or project is almost always worse than the task or project actually is. So just get started; you can’t escape the responsibility for it by ducking out on it today!

But you certainly can push happiness off yet another day … and then another … and then another once again.

Principle #10: “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

While no unhappy person really chooses unhappiness as a conscientious pursuit, still, unhappy people have chosen a pattern of thought and attitude and behavior in response to life that creates either happiness or sadness.  But allowing such responses to life to continue as your default setting, the choice has been made, even if only indirectly.

In other words, by choosing not to take matters into your own hands and make positive changes that add joy to life, you are still making the decision, if negatively, to keep things as they are. So make up your mind to do something more, to think in ways conducive to happiness, to live in a way that opens a doorway to a happy life.

What do you think of the Lincoln’s quotes?

  • Do you agree with the premises of his statements?
  • Which do you like best and why?
  • What advice would you give future generations about living a happy life?
  • Have you struggled with any of the principles from Lincoln’s quotes?
  • Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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