Thomas Jefferson and Happiness

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was one the brightest and most prominent of the founding fathers of the United States. He wrote the declaration of independence, identifying that all humans have certain unalienable rights in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He served as a diplomat to France, one of the most important diplomatic seats, vice-president and eventually 3rdPresident of the United States. He was a staunch protector of individual liberties and freedoms. I believe that he would be deeply concerned to see what that small country he helped found in the 1770’s, that nation which was intended to be the shining light and example of all that is good in a free and just democracy, has become. He was wary of the power of big banks, concerned at the possibility for harm should a government accumulate too much power over it’s people.

Without going too much into politics, it ought to suffice it to say that Thomas Jefferson was a champion of individual freedoms and rights, an accomplished individual, and someone whose general example of success and happiness we can emulate as we pursue happiness on our own terms. Luckily for us, Thomas Jefferson was kind enough to write out his 10 rules for living, the path of which we may consider in our own lives. Of course, happiness means something different to all of us, which means that along with our different circumstances, our pursuit of happiness will take on it’s own unique form. However, we are blessed with the luxury of others who have found happiness and success and given the opportunity to learning from their example.

Thomas Jefferson’s 10 rules for life:

1.      1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today. This may be the antidote to all procrastination right here. I have thought about this many a time as I contemplate the consequences for putting off what is often a very menial and simple task. Why wait to tomorrow to clean my room when I have time right now. How much less anxiety do you think you would feel if instead of letting small things accumulate into a major obstacle, we dealt with them now. Often, we realize that the chore was simple to resolve and we find ourselves greatly relieved at having finished it. Don’t delay, act today.

2.      2.  Never trouble another for what you can do yourself. This is a major lesson in responsibility and in self-sufficiency. Ever seen someone throw a piece of trash on the ground even though a trash can is only 10 feet away. Either they just don’t care about the environment or they believe someone else will likely pick it up. Maybe you can be the person to pick it up, or better yet, maybe that person will realize that they can do it themselves and it will be very little trouble. If everyone takes on a certain responsibility for their community, their fellow humans, and the entire planet, what a better world we would have.

3.       3. Never spend money before you have it. This would have been helpful advice in my mid-twenties when I was racking up tens of thousands of dollars in consumer debt. Money problems are among the most common stressor in the world and much of it is about debt. We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have and end up having to work stressful jobs for the duration of our lives while we try to pay back what we borrowed. This makes sense coming from Thomas Jefferson, a man notoriously skeptical of banking institutions. I know a lot of us would be happier if we heeded this advice.

4.       4. Never buy what you don’t want because it is cheap. How many of us have been sparked into an impulse purchase simply because it was listed at discount. Retailers are notorious for marking things as 50% off for example, while not actually changing the price. They know that the mere suggestion that it is a bargain will entice more buyers. We need to be able to restrain ourselves against these impulses and exhibit some self-control, this will allow for more clarity and level-headed decision making.

5.       5. Pride costs us more than hunger, hurt, and cold. True. I bet we can all think of multiple examples in our life where we let pride get in the way of good, rational decision making. Learn to swallow your pride and stop comparing yourself to others, or concerning yourself with their opinions.

6.       6. We never repent of having eaten too little. Moderation in everything.

7.       7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly. If it bothers you, why do it. Life is too short to be miserable and unhappy. If you troubled by what you do than why do it?

8.       8. How much pain have cost us the evils that never happened. This reminds me of a stoic quote that reminds us that the evil we perceive is often much worse than the evil that occurs. How much suffering have we caused in anxiety and fear of something that might happen, and then it never comes to fruition. Or if it does happen we realize that our fears were greatly exaggerated. Learn to control your anxieties and realize we suffer more in our mind than in reality. Things are rarely as bad as they seem.

9.       9. Always take things by their smooth handle. Ok, honestly not sure what this means. Perhaps it is a bygone expression from the 1700s that isn’t translate or maybe I am just a dunce. What I THINK it means is that there is a good way and a bad way to do things. The easy way is to grab things by their handle, don’t make things harder than they have to be?

10.   10. When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred. How often have we flown off the handle with anger and made a situation much worse. Have you ever hurt somebodies feelings by saying something mean in the heat of the moment, or acted in a way that caused you regret later. Emotions heat up and tempers flare. We need to recognize when our emotions get the best of us, and take the time to collect our thoughts and respond calmly and rationally.

Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 6 rules of success I posted a few weeks ago, Thomas Jefferson’s list is not guaranteed to help you find success or happiness. It did work for him and it MAY work for you. You have to decide what happiness means to you and what you want out of life and find your own way. That being said, we are in a special position to use the lives of others as our inspiration if not our roadmaps in pursuit of happiness.


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