What can we learn from a man who lived when running water was a rarity, and no cars existed? Imagine a life with no electricity, telephone, radio, or television. There was not a single one of the countless distractions that exist today.
Let’s look at some of the wisdom of a naturalist, essayist, poet, philosopher, and leading transcendentalist in his time. He remains one of America’s most prolific poets and writers, and we can learn much from him.
Wisdom from the recent past
What does a man who died more than 150 years ago have to say about life today? Plenty! Besides containing great wisdom and truth, most of his writings remain as relevant today as when he wrote them. His name is Henry David Thoreau. His thoughts have influenced many, including Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., amongst many others.
Let’s examine the depth of some of his words to uncover how they can affect your view of life, taking you beyond the obvious.
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)
It takes confidence and a belief in yourself to continually move toward your dreams. What is life without a desire to achieve something more, something bigger than yourself? When you dream, you use your imagination in wonderful ways, fueling your efforts, propelling you into the future.
A wonderful thing about life is the uncertainty of it all. To move in the direction of your dreams is no guarantee you will achieve them, yet it is better to have a dream and something to live for than to have no aspiration at all.
When the dream comes true, it may happen as planned or suddenly and unexpectedly. It is a marvelous thing to see a dream fulfilled!
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” Henry David Thoreau
Think about what Thoreau is saying about the results of goal achievement. Everyone understands it is good and beneficial to set goals in life and go after them. Yet, what you become ultimately matters more than accomplishing the goal itself.
Every goal you strive for changes you on the inside, helping you learn and grow. You build more capacity, capability, and understanding of what it takes to accomplish something. That is worth more than the goal itself, as your personal growth brings more value than any individual goal can ever achieve.
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” Henry David Thoreau
How often do you go through the day seeing superficially, missing the depth that exists in so many things? We all do it. In our rush through life or ignorance, we pay little attention to what matters. Because of this, we miss a great deal of truth and reality.
Only by slowing down and becoming curious can we uncover and see what lies beneath or behind what is happening.
You ask someone how they are doing, and they give the typical response, “I’m doing okay.” Yet you hear in their words or notice in the expression on their face that things may not be so good. How often do you ignore this and lose a chance for connection?
What could happen if you gave them a listening ear? You knew when they said they were doing okay; something was amiss. Yet, in your hurry to get on with the day, you lost an opportunity to help your fellow man.
Next time you encounter such a situation, slow down and listen for what is not said. Have a heart of compassion. Imagine the good that could happen. It will make a world of difference in both of your lives!
“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” Henry David Thoreau
Ask any highly successful person what books made a difference in their life, and prepare to make a list. Reading books has created an undeniable impact on countless lives. Practically any successful person can attest to this.
As Plato said millennia ago: “Books give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” Today you have a world of opportunity waiting for you to uncover, and it can be shipped to your door in a couple of days or accessed on the internet in seconds.
Just think of this unbelievable treasure available to us all. The virtually limitless knowledge, wisdom, and experiences. James Burke once said, “When you read a book, you hold another’s mind in your hands.”
If you want to live the best possible life, consider Thoreau’s wisdom in these four ideas. You and what you dream, become, see, and learn can help you live a life of purpose and meaning.
I leave you with some final words of wisdom from Thoreau to consider how they may apply to your life.
“There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.” — Henry David Thoreau
You choose what you dream, become, see, and learn daily. Why not make the best of it?