Jonathan Swift’s Top 7 Words of Wisdom

“May you live all the days of your life.”

Jonathan Swift was a writer that lived a couple of centuries ago (1667-1745).

He is perhaps most known for classics like “Gulliver’s Travels” and “A Modest Propsal”. The latter being the ironic and shocking essay where he suggested that impoverished Irish people should sell their babies as food to rich people. Such works has earned Swift a reputation as one of the finest satirists of all time.

Since Swift was a writer there is a ton of things to quote. Here are seven of my favourite words of wisdom.

1. Don’t fear to be wrong.

“A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying… that he is wiser today than yesterday.”

So much of what we learn in society is about how you should not fail and not make mistakes. In school we are taught to get good grades and play by the rules. And so always taking a safe route and not taking risks can become an ingrained behaviour as we learn to associate failure with shame and pain.

But one should really not be afraid of making mistakes. Or admitting that he or she has been wrong. By recognizing that you can release the negative emotions that may dwell within and move on to the next thing. Admitting that you have been wrong also makes it easier to clearly analyze what you did and what you can learn from the experience.

2. Money is useful. Love of it is hazardous.

“A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.”

Money is very useful. But if you let it take the wrong place in your life it can wreck havoc.

It can create greed and much negativity in your life. And if you love the money, you’ll probably just want more and more. No matter how much you get. And it may not fill you up and finally make you happy as you may have hoped.

The drive to always want more can become like filling a bucket with a hole in it. And as you slowly realize that this won’t work as you had hoped bitterness and negativity can start to feste.

Now, it’s important to not let this reasoning lead you to believe that money is evil. Money is a tool. It can help you to achieve many positive things.

3. Dig where you stand.

“Although men are accused of not knowing their own weakness, yet perhaps few know their own strength. It is in men as in soils, where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not of.”

It’s very easy to fall into an addictive pattern of criticizing yourself and others. But what are the positive things in you and the people around you?

If you just look for things to criticize then that is what you will see. If you look for things to criticize in yourself that is what you will see in yourself and pay attention to in others.

So what can you do? You can start digging where you are standing. Instead of asking yourself those negative questions continually, ask yourself: what is good about me? Ask yourself where your strengths and talents lie. And don’t give up at once just because a negative mindset may initially not let you see what’s good and positive about you.

What you focus on most of the time is what you will see of reality. Knowing your weaknesses and learning from mistakes is helpful. But to dwell on criticism and the negative parts will just keep you in a loop where you create more of that for yourself.

At some point it’s useful to move on from that and start to shift your focus to the positive. And see what gold that will help you uncover.

4. Go further than you may think you can.

“I’ve always believed no matter how many shots I miss, I’m going to make the next one.”

One big problem with success is that you may want it right now. Or at least very soon. No wonder, advertising continually bombards us with messages of how we can become thin or rich in just 30 days. And people often want to believe in that.

Now, I’m not saying that a lot of the stuff out there doesn’t work. They probably do work. I’m just saying that it may take more time, patience and work than advertised to get you where you want to go.

It’s useful to take a break from advertised perspectives and let more realistic perspectives seep into your mind. Learn from people who have gone where you want to go. Talk to them. Read what they have to say in books or online. This will not give complete plan but a clearer perspective of what is needed to achieve what you want.

And then you plug away. You don’t let setbacks or failure discourage you. You go out and try again. And just when you feel like giving up you go on a little further. And a little further.
Because it’s often darkest before the dawn.

5. Put down the extra, unnecessary baggage you are carrying.

“The latter part of a wise person’s life is occupied with curing the follies, prejudices and false opinions they contracted earlier.”

We pick a whole lot when we are young. Some of it is helpful. A lot of it will hold you back and create a lot of unnecessary suffering in your life.

You may have learned things from society – or sometimes gotten stuff drilled into your head – when you were young. You may have taken what someone said or did to you once or repeatedly as an absolute truth about you and your life.

But as a grown up, as you start to examine your life and beliefs you may discover that those things was just things that happened. They are in the past. You are here now.

And by grasping that it’s you who are always in control of your life – that you are creating it right now – you understand that unhelpful beliefs or what happened doesn’t have to mean that much really.

You can choose to drop them and continue with a lightness in your step down a road that you are creating for yourself now. One tip that can help you with that is to first accept that you are carrying the negative thing and how it is affecting you. And then to let it go. Acceptance of what already is does – even though it may sound counterintuitive – make it easier to let something go.

6. Be good to yourself in simple ways.

“The best doctors in the world are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman.”

It’s nowadays common to run yourself into the ground and then, as you feel like a shadow of your former self, to seek help.

But a big part of keeping your health – mentally and physically – in good shape is to prevent problems before they even show up and force you to go to the doctor.

Swift brings some common sense into this challenge. By doing simple things consistently, by making them ingrained habits one can avoid many problems down the line.

  • Doctor Diet. Eat not too little or too much. Eat slowly to really enjoy the taste and avoid overeating, an upset stomach and added stress.
  • Doctor Quiet. Always being around noise, other people and stimulation via a lot of information can drain you. It’s important to find some quiet time for yourself regularly to avoid being overloaded. Being out in nature is for instance one good way to reconnect with the quiet and stillness.
  • Doctor Merryman. How happy and positive one wants to feel is often to a large degree a choice. You can cultivate a negative attitude towards everything. Or a positive one. 

Now, this may sound like almost stupidly simple advice. And the information is very simple. Many very helpful things are very simple.

More advanced tips can sound intriguing because one may associate complicated with better. But everything has to have foundations. Without those everything you build on top of them will only work at a limited capacity or sometimes just crumble.

7. Be open to the idea that you can always learn.

“No man was ever so completely skilled in the conduct of life, as not to receive new information from age and experience.”

Being open to this will open up your mind. If you think you know everything, great insights and wonderful new paths to explore will just pass you by.

By being open you’ll see, feel and learn things you wouldn’t otherwise. But be careful of focusing too much on learning from books, blogs etc. They have a place and can help you correct things may have done backwards for all of your life.

But the most important thing is to live. And to learn from your experiences. Because it is there you find true understanding of things.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Excellent article! This really hit home, “A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying… that he is wiser today than yesterday.”

    Probably one of the hardest things to do as a parent is following this advice. Though extremely important in raising your kids!

  • To be totally honest with you, I am a very negative person who finds negative things to criticize about others. This is one thing I know I need to change right away! Reading number #3, i learned that somehow the reason why I always feel bad and always in a grumpy mood is because i am too negative. I should start acknowledging and appreciating the positive things with the people around me.
    I also like #6! Be good to yourself. I sometimes get too engrossed with whatever that it is that I am doing that I neglect my self and my physical needs like eating, resting and relaxing. Thanks for posting this as I really learned a lot from it.

  • mypleasure

    A great article but isn’t the Doc Quiet is to be silent and let others talk and keeps your comments reserved.