My oldest son’s English teacher had this great idea, corresponding with the class reading Hamlet, for we parents to pen whatever wisdom we’ve tried to impart to our children and give it to them, so they have the option of sharing some of it when the class goes over Polonius’s advice to his own son Laertes.1 I thought I’d share my hastily composed and unoriginal thoughts here in case any of you might like any of it, and–more importantly–in case you have any to add. I’m always in the market for more wisdom, though my track record of application is pretty poor.
Instruction Manual for a Good Life
“Have pity, for every man is fighting a hard battle.” (Ian Maclaren)
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Jesus Christ)
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner)
In other words, strive to be kind, to be merciful, and to honor your calling.
Remember that a small daily effort will yield results far greater than a handful of passionate efforts undertaken only when the mood strikes. Great books, great paintings, really comfortable pieces of furniture—they’re all crafted by people who put in work every day, not by those who only pick up a pen, brush, or chisel when they feel inspired.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Strive for perfection, but learn to be contented with good enough, or you’ll always be miserable.
The people God puts in your life are there for a reason. Invest in them. Good friendships are built through investment and sacrifice, not “chemistry.”
Remember that genuine love is an action, not a feeling. We act out love regardless of how we feel.
Forgive, forgive, forgive, and then forgive some more.
When you’re feeling down, do something kind for someone who needs it. Nothing takes your mind off your own unhappiness like kindness.
There is a world of difference between momentary happiness and abiding joy. Don’t anesthetize yourself with small pleasures so that you quit the hard striving for joy.
Get plenty of sleep. People who don’t are miserable, sickly, and depressed.
Above all else, practice gratitude every day. When you wake, and when you go to bed, and whenever you’re angry or sad or bitter. Name specific things you’re thankful for. Remember this is why Moses predicted the Israelites would fall: Because they didn’t “serve the Lord your God with joy and a good heart, for the abundance of everything.”
Lack of gratitude leads to self-destruction. The only path out of darkness is through gratitude.
Get to know God, because you’re going to spend an eternity with Him.
- Yes, I know Polonius was a blowhard, and I for one can never think of him without remembering Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry, during a press conference before he headed off to a well-deserved prison stint, quoting Polonius’s “to thine own self be true” and misattributing it to the Bible as his throng of hangers-on nodded reverentially, but still, it’s the thought that counts here and if you think you’ve got better advice than Polonius, well then by all means ante up