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How to be… In the words of Emerson

How to be… In the words of Emerson

There is no shortage of thought leaders, coaches, speakers and lifestyle experts sharing their ideas on how to be happy. On this subject, it seems everyone is an expert. From the hundreds of happiness blogs, books, workshops and training I’ve consumed, one thing is clear to me:

Each of us must first define what happiness is for us.

In a new series, we’re calling “How to Be” we’ll be sharing how some of the greats defined their lives and marched to their own drum to create their own definition of happiness and leave their mark on the world.

We’re kicking things off with Ralph Waldo Emerson–one of my all-time favorite thought leaders.

Emerson (1803–82) was an American essayist, poet, and philosopher. This dude was championing individualism back in the mid-1800s when no one was talking about such things. Emerson had some very progressive beliefs:

  • He believed that each individual could transcend, or move beyond, the physical world of the senses into the deeper spiritual experience through FREE WILL and INTUITION.
  • He was in favor of women’s rights and opposed to slavery (audiences would sometimes shout him down at public appearances for these opinions).
  • Emerson believed you could DESIGN YOUR LIFE in a way that made you happy. He himself dreamed of being surrounded by friends. That to him was a key component of happiness so he designed his home and a beautiful garden around entertaining. Friends like Whitman and Thoreau would regularly stop by to discuss ideas and as it so happens, a lot of those transcendentalist ideas can be seen in the movie, Dead Poets Society.

Here’s what Emerson had to say on some of our favorite topics:


Find purpose

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.


What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies INSIDE of you.


Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.


To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.


It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.


Doing well is the result of doing good. That’s what capitalism is all about.


Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.


Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.


Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.


To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.


Beauty without expression is boring.


Envy is ignorance, Imitation is Suicide.


The best effect of fine persons is felt after we have left their presence.


For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.


The first wealth is health.

Live fully

We are always getting ready to live but never living.


It is not the length of life, but the depth of life.


Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it, nothing great was ever achieved.


Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.


The world belongs to the energetic.


You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.


Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.


A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.


It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.


No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character.


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