Jonathan Swift’s Top 7 Words of Wisdom

[hana-code-insert name='social down' /]“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.  And a whole lot of tips for creating a positive and optimistic attitude can be found in my book  The Power of Positivity.

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.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with someone on Facebook, Twitter and Stumbleupon. Thank you very much! =)

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Thanks for the post, Henrik. I like th first one: Don’t fear to be wrong. I think that everyone makes different mistakes and problems and fails are part of our life.
    But the main question is what to do to overcome it and continue to go forward.

    I really like your blog! It’s my first comment! But I like the idea of being optimistic!

  • Hey Henrik,

    Great article.
    There truly is a lot to learn from the wise men of the past.
    Reading books from men like Jonathan Swift can really open your eyes to a lot of realities that you never dared believe in.

    I agree with all 7 points but I must really highlight number 7.
    You are never to old or know to much to learn more.
    Reading (a blog!), watching videos, going to seminars or just plain asking for advice are the best way to grow and become an even better version of yourself.

  • Thank you Henrik – great quotes you tracked down and wonderful insights you shared

  • Meanchick

    I loved “A Modest Proposal!” Hilarious! Very accurate for that time!

  • That was an excellent collection of quotes. But what hit home was the opening statement “May you live all the days of your life.” So apt and so deep.

  • Henrik,
    I fell upon your website through Google, and this is the first article I saw. I agree with a lot of what you say, because it’s absolutely clear that we do have complete control over our lives, and that happiness is a faculty of choice. I can say I honestly agree with almost everything you said.
    – Don’t Fear to be Wrong: Absolutely. I got into an argument with a friend a week ago, and I realized that I started the argument over a very silly reason and I apologized midcourse.
    – Dig Where You Stand: Of course! “The Journey of a Thousand miles begins with one step.”- Lao Tzu. =)
    – Going further: Absolutely. I have a quote for this too: ““I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”- Henry David Thoreau

    I agree with pretty much everything you are saying except for ONE principle you laid out: The Love of Money leading to Disaster.

    I cannot agree with this, and I never will.
    How can we “HATE” something yet try so hard to pursue it?
    I look at your blog, and it’s apparent to me that you have definitely tried to monetize it. You seem to be making some money off of it.
    And, of course, you do state, “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.”

    So, I am happy that we are in agreement at this point. It is obvious that you do have love for money, because you’ve seemingly monetized your blog. But, if money is a motivator of yours (if, at least, partially), why even SLIGHTLY agree with someone who says that money is the root of all evil?

    I think a lot of people have this issue about “money and bliss” all wrong.

    Money allows us to give others more of it. Bill gates is giving half of his net worth away.

    Money is given to the intellectual, the creator who brings forth something to mankind that has never before existed.
    It rains upon the inventor who makes life easier for the rest of the world.
    Haven’t you noticed that the highest paid people in civilization are those who have contributed the greatest comfort to the world?
    – Bill Gates: Microsoft
    – Richard Branson: Virgin
    -Benjamin Franklin- Electricity, Libraries, Fire Stations
    -Andrew Carnegie- Steel and Railroads
    -Alexandar Graham Bell- The Telephone
    – Marconi- The Radio
    -Edison- The Light Bulb

    I hate this notion of money being the root of all evil. It isn’t.
    And, if anyone strives to make more money in order to add more comfort to one’s life WHILE still condemning it, I refer to this as the greatest sense irony.

    It’s ironic that we chase after things that we “hate” .

    And then there is the argument of, “No, I hate money. I really do. I only pursue it for practical uses in order to have a living.”
    – It’s fine to have such an argument is you really do desire to live at the lowest levels of poverty, if you desire to live at the LOWEST level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.
    But, realize, the very money people condemn is the money that can build new homes, bring water to impoverished countries, put food on one’s table, and enhance life in every single way imaginable.

    MONEY isn’t evil, and you absolutely, without a doubt, state this.
    I was just surprised that you, who also chases money, would say something negative about it on a blog you’ve monetized. Also ironic.

    Money could never be the root of evil.

    Do you want to know what I believe to be the root of all evil?

    A man without a purpose.

    It is the man without a purpose who feels that money and luxuries will fill a hole in his heart; however, the more he makes, the emptier he feels.

    He feels this way, because in order to make money, you must contribute to society. You must GIVE. The thing is, since he is not living his purpose, no amount of “giving” will ever satisfy him enough for the receiving.

    In layman’s terms: I could become a millionaire real estate guru while having the greatest contempt for my life because I absolutely hate my job.

    The man without a purpose is the one who goes around, at the worst, trying to sell hookers, drugs, and stolen goods in exchange for a lifestyle that makes the hole in his soul emptier and more hateful.
    At best, he is a commoner who works any job JUST for the sake of the money. He has no boundaries, and he will do whatever it takes to make that extra dollar. Since he is not in alignment with his purpose in life, he will do odd jobs in order to increase profit, and he will still feel empty inside.

    You say that the world is a reflection of our inner states. Then, money is also a reflection of our inner states. And, our jobs and feelings towards those jobs also reflect our inner states.

    But, watch a man who is in LOVE with his job!
    Watch a man who LOVES his offering!
    A man who LOVE to create and enhance the world.
    He too desires money.
    He too loves money.
    And when he receives it, his life itself feels more wholesome because he received the money in exchange for a service he rendered which was in alignment with his bliss.

    The love of money isn’t the root of all evil.
    The man without a purpose is.

    • Anthony

      Money doesnt build anything. People do using resources which should be used to benefit the entire world and not just a select few who retain land and resources to make sure they get the highest profits.
      Tell me about all the rich bankers and hedge fund managers and their billions. What did they contribute to the betterment of mankind?

      • They are able to have those billions because of the mindset they have.

        They have managed to find a way to have money work for them instead of them working for money. They have focused on building a life filled with assets instead of one filled with liabilities.

        Now, am I aware of the scandals and backroom deals? Sure. And, I’ll be the first to say that such action will only corrupt a society.

        And, you are right: Money has no intrinsic value. Matter of fact, after we went off of the Gold standard in the USA, there really has no value behind money.

        However, it is the medium by which we do exchange. If a man or woman has created something through his intellectual rights, then they deserve every penny they earn.

        There is this myth of the Starving Artist, this glorified image of the person who works his or her tail to the bone in order to earn a few cents on something that took a lot of work to accomplish. But, “HARD WORK” is a myth.

        In nature, hard work does not exist. There is the principal of least action in physics which states that an object or piece of matter will take the easiest trajectory possible in order to achieve its goal.

        “tell me about all the rich bankers and hedge fund managers and their billions. What did they contribute to the bettermentof mankind?”

        – I can’t speak of specific billionaires; however, from what I last checked, about 40 of the world’s billionaires have pledged to give away half of their networth before they pass away.

        You’re asking me what they have contributed.

        Let me ask you something.

        What has Robin Hood accomplished?

        That crook is embedded in our minds since birth: The “noble” picture of the man who steals form the rich and gives to the needy. The crooks are those who believe that the rich work to serve the poor, that it is the right of the Rich (as if it were some mandate by god) to make sure the poor have easier lives.

        Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor.
        He stole from the inventors, the innovators, the geniuses, and he gave to those who did not deserve their keep.

        Look around you, and you will see on every corner of the land hordes of people who feel that they deserve to get paid for more than they have worked for. And they curse the men and women who have used their Minds, instead of their hands, to earn money.

        The mind is far more valuable than our hands will ever be.

        It may be true that any money a man or women earns as a result of having Created something using the faculties of the mind (say, an invention or an idea or a piece of art) may never fully satisfy the person or bring as much happiness to the person as when he or she felt while making the contribution; however, money is the best form of reward we can give to such a person, and deservedly so.

        You tell me about the crooks who work inside of their high rise offices.

        I’ll tell you about those who hail Robin Hood.

        Scarcity is the product of the mind, and as long as these people feel that they are poor, poverty is only what they will see.

        There has been this “beautification” of the destruction of money. For so long, money has been hailed as evil and corrupt. Yet, you work for a living, don’t you? You go to work for 8 hours a day, and possibly more.
        And, you might argue that you have bills to pay- that you really need your television, radio, and many of the other luxuries you take for granted. Let’s not forget the internet, God no! You could forgo much of these things, but you work 8 hours a day, and possibly more, to have some of these things in your life. You are wealthier than most people in the world. There are people who would KILL to have your position. And, what would you say if they called you corrupt? You would say, “I earned my keep.”

        As long as we live in a society that is filled with innovation, there will be money. There is no escaping that. “Money doesn’t build anything. People do.” As long as people build, they will want to use money as an exchange for their things they build. Money has always existed in one form of another. Even without actual currency, a barter system would come into effect.

        And, once again, Robin Hood would become hailed by the crooks who feel that they deserve the properties of the rich.

        Such a mindset is limiting. It is filled with scarcity. It makes us believe that there are limitations to what the human mind can achieve.

        Robin Hood must die.

      • Allen

        Your post reminds me of Robin Hood. Steals from the rich and gives to the poor. How noble. How worthy. How sickening and stupid. Makes a nice legend and kid’s story but in truth it doesn’t work out that way. So all poor people are nice and deserving and all rich people (bankers and hedge fund managers are greedy, grasping evil mongers?).
        Do a little research on the Rothschild family of bankers. Yes, they were rich – they even loaned to kings. They were also self made success stories who did a great deal of good with their money too. I am personally friends with a great many millionaires and most of them are hard working, decent people who do a lot of good with their money behind the scenes. This notion of wealthy people are evil is very shallow and mostly claimed by the “have nots” in life and who usually wait to win the lottery to make their fortune because the alternative (hard work, education, diligence, faith, tenacity) is totally unacceptable and out of the question.

        • Whoa! talk about Synchronicity! You mentioned Robin Hood too. now THAT is freaky.

  • I love these quotes, especially the one about not being afraid of being wrong. I’ve witnessed so many arguments in the workplace that lingered on for that reason alone. For some people, the ultimate goal is to win the argument–not to have the right answer.

  • I love the three wisemen: Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman. For me personally, I am going to invite Dr. Merryman over for dinnermore often.

    I saw a great TED talk on choosing happiness, by Dan Gilbert:

  • Aww of course I find this post helpful! I find all of your posts helpful. Being someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, I find your posts to be really great and have amazing advice and guidance to offers to others. Reading your blog really has changed my life, although I am not old at all ( I am barely legal)…lol. But thank you very much for your posts and your blog! :)

  • Henrik,
    It’s great to learn from those before us, and its’ great that you chose to share this knowledge…Awe-some insights..thank you for sharing! If we allow for even one small change the ease, joy, wonder, delight, magic within our lives increases..imagine how grand life could be if we choose to allow it:)

  • My you live all the days of your life.
    If we followed this statement then life would be worth living as so many of us just survive. Life becomes a blur of days that speed up as we grow older with technology dissolving time into something we no longer treat with awe and respect.

    Live in such a way that the preacher can tell the truth at your funeral.

  • I’m still thinking about the first one, “May you live all the days of your life.”

    For me, that means, may I be awake, aware and continually awakening more each day of my life.

    Great advice.

  • David

    Is the book any different then the articles on the site, or is it just a collection of his best blogs? thanks in advance

    • Hi David!

      The book is a mix of the best ideas from the blog and some stuff I think I haven’t talked much about here. I think that the book also describes with more clarity how different things work together and you get a better overall perspective compared to if you read the blog. But you can find much of it on the blog in some form or another.

  • Thank you for the kind words and for adding all your own insights, guys! :)

  • David

    I’m going to get it just to support this awesome site.