A JOLLY BY JOSH
Dear Charlie, - Having a spare moment as I crossed the continent
last time, I sat down in the rear end of a Lake Shore Limited
train, and began to cast about me with a view to hitting upon some
way of passing the time amicably with myself. As I looked about
the car, I studied the faces and persons of my fellow-travellers,
and found them uniformly uninteresting. My mind wandered from them
out of the window, and I noted with a casual eye the advance
civilization was making on both sides of the track. I began
wandering vaguely from that back to the time when this was a
trackless wilderness; and I pictured to myself the advent of the
white man, and so on in an aimless sort of a way, from the
beginning of our country until I reached the Declaration of
Independence, the terms of which have always remained vividly
impressed upon my mind.
"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!" That is what we are
after. So it is. How ridiculous! Why don't we think of it oftener?
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How many of us are free? How many of us are happy? And,
particularly, how many of us would be any happier if we got the
things we want? What foolish wants we have, anyway! Almost
everybody wants something they don't want.
Just then my eye caught sight of the official stenographer
advertised as free. To an economical soul like mine the
opportunity of having a free stenographer for a day and a half was
too good to let slip by. So, placing my chair up alongside of his,
I took from my pocket a letter which I had just received from my
nephew, who had been spending his vacation in the West, and which
I had not known exactly how to answer.
The train of thoughts in which I had indulged, and the peculiarly
vacant condition of my mind, made the time favorable for expansion
upon the theme which had occurred to me; and so I inflicted on the
poor boy a long letter, or sermon, or essay, or whatever you may
please to call it, which I am enclosing to you.
I know that you are interested in topics of this sort, and so send
it along with an apology for the amount of your valuable time
which I am so wilfully wasting.
Your old friend,
_Dear Tom_, - I have just received your letter, asking if you could bring a
pony back from Colorado. I answer most assuredly, "Yes"; that is, if you
want to! But do you want to? This question having occurred to my mind, and
perhaps not to yours, you must excuse my becoming a little long-winded if
I launch out on a train of ideas which has presented itself to my mind.
Let me briefly serve up the circumstances that surround you, and perhaps I
can paint them so that you will look at them from a new point of view.
You are eighteen years of age. You have lived surrounded by wealth and a
good deal of luxury; but the luxury in which you were lapped was the
comfort with which a man of great working brain, who has well earned the
right to spend freely, chose to take for his own rest and amusement,
knowing well the value of every cent he has spent or given away.
As the youngest of many sons, you have never had any responsibility; and
yet your parents have left you with a taste for all kinds of expensive
things, although, when you come to your money in a few years, you will
have enough to gratify only a small part of the tastes which you have
acquired. Nevertheless, the money to which you are heir, while
necessitating a lower rate of expenditures than that of the household you
have been brought up in, is sufficient to enable you to live under much
easier circumstances than most of your neighbors.
In fact, if many of your friends started life with the income that will be
yours, they would consider themselves decidedly rich, and would become,
for a time at least, very much happier.
It seems to me that the Declaration of Independence has put it pat when it
defines the principal object for which we strive as "LIFE, LIBERTY, AND
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS."
This may seem wandering far from the question of a pony; but, if you have
patience and follow me closely, you will find the old man is not too far
from the point.
Now let us bear fully in mind that Life, Liberty, and Happiness are the
objects which we have in view. In the tangled complications of modern
existence one gets lost and bewildered, unless having very definitely in
mind the objects for which we are striving. We would be like a ship
drifting or sailing in a fog without a compass. We do not know whether we
are attaining and accomplishing, or losing ground, unless we have
definitely in mind an objective point or points with which to make
comparisons of our position at different times.
I do not hesitate to write freely that we are engaged in the pursuit of
happiness, even though shallow minds might take exceptions on the ground
of selfishness. This is not so, as to a properly constituted mind
happiness includes seeing others happy, and the greatest satisfaction
comes from making them so. I will therefore let the Declaration of
Independence stand for the present without amendment.
Let us begin by postulating a great degree of happiness for friend Harris,
who has a dear little wife, a small house, and twenty-five hundred per
year. He will have no vacations and several children; and though we see
him full of happiness now, and envy his good luck and all, yet we foresee
that in twenty years, even though his salary is doubled, he will have been
enabled to lay by nothing, and will have a little heart-burning at the
thought that he cannot give his three daughters the ball dresses and
jewels they see among their boon companions.
Thompy, who has four thousand now, is not quite as happy as Harris, and
complains a good deal of being poor. He is hard-working and progressive,
and will doubtless double his salary; while Perry who is getting ten
thousand, part as income from property and part as trustee of something or
other, is the poorest man I know. He has desires, tastes, and expensive
habits which would make fifteen thousand a year look small to him, and
can't get along without entertainments and personal expenses on a
considerably higher plane than he can now afford.
Where will you land? As you are heading now, you will never be an
earner - it is more likely that you will be a spender - of money. You have
been accustomed to lots of things you could not afford on ten thousand a
year. Of course, you can cut down to that figure; but where will it land
you when you are married and have three daughters to send into society?
You will be worse off than Harris or Thompy in spite of the fact that you
have twice as much as one and just as much as the other.
Here is a curious fact I noticed when in college. I was asked by the
manager of the crew to collect subscriptions for him, and I undertook the
job in the dormitory in which I lived. I often found that the richest men
were the poorest. They never had money with them, and, while they promised
large amounts, they seldom paid; while the men of moderate means seemed to
be the ones who would readily promise reasonable amounts, and then draw a
check for it the first time you asked them. I am stating these facts for
the purpose of drawing some conclusions; and I think you will agree with
me, particularly when I have proved them up by testing them from the other
The obvious conclusion sounds almost like a platitude, - that it is not the
amount of money one has that increases one's happiness, but the use it is
put to and the attitude of mind you have toward your income and the life
you can lead with it.
Let us now apply this to your particular case, and draw some more
_A priori_, you would be dissatisfied because you will be unable to do the
things you have been accustomed to doing, and your attitude will be that
of a man who has to deny himself things he thinks he wants. You will then
cut down the rate of expenditure to within your income, as you have a
certain modicum of sense in regard to matters of this kind, - not acquired,
but inherited, - and permit yourself to spend freely up to your limits.
Observe the result: -
When at the end of ten years you are married, you will find there is no
increase in income, and you will have a lot of expensive tastes for things
which you have come to look upon as necessary; and the increased expenses
of a household will make you give up all sorts of personal comforts. This
will make you feel poor, much poorer than Harris, for instance. As your
children appear, they will in turn rob you of more of the things you have
been accustomed to. You will have to keep a family horse and a pony, and
give up trotters and boats.
I am not detailing these tragedies with the idea of painting a gloomy
future, but merely to illustrate a point of view, - a habit of mind. I
It becomes evident, then, that, in order to bring your mind to the point
of view that will make you happy, it would be well to study the case of
Harris, the happiest man you know. Perhaps you could manage to do
artificially, as it were, what nature or circumstances has done for him.
He had no prospects, but good health, good heart, and good mind. He was
perfectly delighted when he found he could earn twenty-five hundred
dollars a year, a larger sum than he had ever had; and he saved some and
spent some in new ways until he found, when he married, that his living
expenses consumed it all. His wife, expecting little, was pleased with all
she got; and, altogether, they seemed to get, in a large measure, the
objects for which we strove and fought the war of 1776.
From the start you were differently placed. You became accustomed to
gratifying your desires: you had little purpose in your actions; and,
accordingly, you have now the habit of looking on each wish, whether of
long standing or momentary, as something you might as well gratify.
My second conclusion I will jump to now, without filling in the
intermediate steps leading up to it; namely, that, to attain happiness, it
is necessary to cultivate the custom of restraining your impulse to
gratify your every desire.
To illustrate this, I will carry out my threat of proving it up from the
other side. You have often in your yachting experiences seen the yachts
belonging to the Goulds, Vanderbilts, and other men of great wealth. These
men feel it necessary to own ships almost as large and expensive to
operate as ocean steamers. They build houses that cost several hundreds of
thousands of dollars, and they give balls that would ruin men of moderate
wealth, while their weddings are likely to cost in the neighborhood of a
million dollars in decorations, gifts, and expenses. The deduction from
this is that the ability of man to spend is only limited by the length of
his purse, and a man's desire to spend has no such limits.
The conclusion to be drawn from this is that you have got to curb your
desires unless you are unusual in one of two respects, either in your
money-getting ability or in your lack of imagination for inventing new
desires. In any case _you_ can eliminate these possibilities. Now,
admitting that at some point you have got to curb your desires, why not do
it at a point near Harris's, which will leave you in a more comfortable
frame of mind in regard to your money matters, rather than Perry's, who
does not have all he wants, and is discontented, or Vanderbilt, who would
consider himself ruined if he had to live on ten thousand a year?
I know that you may think that you cannot come to Harris's point of view,
as your points of view have always been horizontally opposite, he looking
up to a sum upon which you look down. But never mind. I am suggesting that
we do reach that point, nevertheless, or, if not that point, that we shall
use our intellects, and, with a view to expediency, select a point it
would be wise to reach.
I assert that we have now an intellectual problem before us. The question
is what scale of expenditure we shall use and what proportion of our
desires, etc., shall we curb.
The usual hand-to-mouth method is to go ahead, do what we want until we
are "up against it" and have to economize, and then for a while do without
some of the more important things which we find we cannot afford, having
already spent our money on things of lesser importance. This is the lazy
man's way, the one who does not care to do his thinking, and chooses to
let circumstances make his course rather than wisdom.
The system seems to have some points of merit, and it is whispered that
even Uncle Sam has sometimes let his affairs be managed on this plan, but
that need not enter into this case; for you and I are both of us
intelligent beings, observers after a fashion, and we intend to plan
things out a bit and see what we can do with them, and perhaps see what
stuff this luck that people talk about is made of.
Let us see where we now stand. We have found that it is the attitude
toward your income, and the scale of living your income permits, that must
be regulated; that your desires, if all were granted, will soon grow to a
point far out of reach of your purse, no matter how rich you get; and,
therefore, that the intellectual problem is before us of picking out a
scale of living somewhere well within your present income and endeavoring
to attain an attitude of mind toward living on that scale which will make
you happy rather than discontented.
I know that you are thinking that I have forgotten the personal equation,
that I am arguing as if all people were of the same temperament,
forgetting that under given conditions one person would be happy and
another would not, and that you, with your varied interests and contented
disposition, would always find things to make you happy, even if you had
to give up many of the luxuries which you now enjoy. This is true, but you
must please note that I have not intimated that you couldn't; and, in
fact, the point of what I say rests on the assumption that you could.
Moreover, in regard to other people, you will notice that this letter is
not addressed to them; and, if any of them should happen to see it, they
can put on the garment if it fits, or they can leave it alone, - it is all
one to me.
But how can we bring this about? how tell what things you have been used
to keep and what to give up? how keen a desire it is well to quell, and
which ones? To reach this point, it is necessary to digress again in order
to find the element of the magic touchstone which will tell us whether the
thing we are looking at is made of gold or some baser metal.
You must first have a look at our objective points, and try to analyze
these a little bit. Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness. These are
somewhat intermingled, as we consider liberty an essence of happiness. We
also want health, and all that conduces thereto, particularly cleanliness
and exercise. We want a fair amount of amusement and a good amount of
work. We want the sense of being useful and the sense of being respected.
This people will accord us if we are striving to accomplish some of the
innumerable things which people want to have done. There is, of course, a
higher field for man's energy, - that of striving for things which mankind
ought to want for and doesn't; the position of the martyr or reformer, who
works for the welfare of the people and receives ill-treatment for it,
like Christ. But, while we all of us hope we would not be found wanting,
were the demand made, we cannot help joining with Kipling in the wish
"which I 'ope it won't 'appen to me."
Accordingly, while I am not blind to disagreeable but necessary
possibilities, you will see that, if I digress to satisfy each one of
them, I shall never reach the point, which no doubt in your mind by this
time is the end; and so you must not pick flaws if I make statements which
cover the probable, but not all the possible, contingencies.
We have found, then, that we want employment which will somehow add to the
welfare of the human race; and is not this well worth doing? If you make
something of that nature your object, and keep it fully before your mind,
how much better off you will be than if you have continually in mind your
own amusement, your own comfort! If you have your amusement as your life
object, you will soon become a bored man, whom nothing will amuse. If you
have comfort, you will be the discontented man who is never comfortable;
for you soon fix in your mind the ideal combination of temperature,
garment, palate, belly, and entertainment, and, seldom being able to get
them all at once, you will seldom quite reach your ideal.
You might remark that I have made the statement that employment in
something useful is the element of happiness; but I have not proved it by
reasoning, nor have I led up to it by any line of argument. Let it rest at
that. I shall let your intelligence and experience supply the proof that a
definite object of employment with something in view of interest and
benefit to the human race is, if not an essence of happiness, perhaps the
easiest way to obtain the elements of happiness; namely, an object for
yourself, a sense of usefulness, and the respect of your associates.
In addition to this, you must not be unpleasant to the senses. You must be
morally and physically clean. You must have good manners, which is mostly
being courteous and sympathetic and doing sundry social things according
to the social code which happens to be then in vogue. You must learn,
though it bores you as much as your Latin composition did, the proper way
to dress at various functions and to answer people's invitations and
generally do the correct thing.
It won't take long to learn these things; and you need not remember them,
as, if you once have in mind that there is a correct way of doing things,
you can always find out the particular one at issue by asking.
It seems to me that I can best illustrate my point by comparing you to a
tool, of which there are two ends, - the handle and the working or cutting
It is your business for your first thirty years of existence to make as
good a tool of yourself as you can, and your business for the rest of your
life to do as much work as possible; that is, let the tool be used after
it is made. Thus, then, let us divide your experiences and acquirements
into the handle and the edge of your tool. The handle, - your manners,
education on general topics, such as history, literature, art, etc., your
habits of cleanliness, promptness, etc., and your physical ability,
Your edge is your special fitness for work; that is, your education,
experiences, aptness, power of concentration, and accomplishment.
Now I am going to ask you to keep this division clearly in mind, as I
think you will find in it many of the elements of the touchstone for which
we are looking.
I know the thought will have occurred to you that you do not know what you
will take up, and are in no position to tell what things will go to make
up the right sort of an edge; yet you will observe that you are, of
course, in the same position as other pieces of unshaped wood and steel,
and for your first ten years nothing is done except to shape you up
gradually, teaching you to speak and read, and generally getting house
broken. During your teens you are going to college, learning how to meet
with and talk to men, to be a gentleman and develop your muscles.
Incidentally, you pick up a little knowledge of what the world has been
Most of this you will forget; but, if you are wise, you will have drawn a
few conclusions and made some observations, one of which is that it was
mighty good of those old chaps who have been workers in the past to have
cleared such good roads for us in every direction, so that a fellow could
almost begin where they left off, when his handle is polished and he
An important thing at this period is to get the handle evenly
balanced, - turned correct on centres, as they say; that is, not to get too
far out of the normal in any particular, such as dress, promptness,
profanity, or length of hair.
So much for the rounding of the handle; and now about the tool. At first,
by watching, handling, and careful work, you must begin to show the
quality and amount of metal you possess. Find out, as it were, by
tentative trials whether it is capable of good edge or not. In other
words, you want to find your bent and your abilities. To this end, if you
are naturally good at mathematics and have a scientific and inquiring turn
of mind, as you have, it is well to give it vent. Do not fear, for
instance, to spend your time and earnings on electrical apparatus or
studies and experiments in physical science. If you have a fondness and
desire for teaching or philosophy or accounting or trade, try to find out
the essential requisites of the particular one which interests you, and
follow up and acquire all the attainments which may be found useful. If
you wish to enter politics or the lecture field, learn to speak and
collect and classify your ideas when you are speaking and before people.
Let me summarize briefly the points that I have just covered.
You are now working for a definite object. You have money enough to do
more than you want to do at present; but, if you learn habits expensive
enough to spend the whole of it, you are going to be hard up when your
expenses increase, as they will if you marry or assume greater
responsibilities. Therefore, it is necessary for you to practise
self-denial and deny yourself wisely. We have seen that self-denial of
some sort is necessary to everybody who have not fixed their habits, and
by that I mean fixed their habits to such an extent that no change in
their circumstances will induce them to lead a more expensive life. It
becomes obvious that those who have fixed their habits on economical and
praiseworthy lines will not only be the wealthiest, but will be the people
who enjoy the most freedom. It is to them that wealth is a real blessing;
and it is they who make their wealth a blessing to others, always keeping
in mind the personal equation.
It is therefore up to you to choose habits and fix them, so they will
bring about the best result, and thus conduce to your happiness, the merit
of your actions, and the use of your money. How, then, among all the
opportunities which arise shall you choose, how tell which ones of the
luxuries to which you have been accustomed you shall discard?
We have several times spoken of the touchstone we were seeking, one that
will tell what actions are good and what bad, which desires to fulfil and
which to deny. We have now reached something pretty close to our
definition. Gratify those which contribute toward the success of the
object you have in mind: deny yourself those which are detrimental to it,
and which do not tend directly or indirectly toward its accomplishment.
We wish to attain the attitude of mind of a Stoic toward the first class
of desires, and that of a spendthrift almost toward the second. For
example, keep your personal comfort well in bounds, and train yourself to
disregard it entirely; otherwise, you may say farewell to freedom.
Be temperate in eating your food, drinking cold water, taking exposure, in
your hours and in general. For example, it is not a good plan to have too
much of anything which you like particularly. It immediately dulls the
sense of pleasure in that thing, and, raising the level of your likes to a
degree that makes you dislike some other thing, perhaps, which you liked
before, thus working a loss rather than a gain. Therefore, temperance,
which is synonymous of moderation, in my use of the word, is the wisest
thing you can practise. But be intemperate in the pursuit of your object.
Let no expense be too large to equip yourself physically or mentally for
your life's work, as, for example, to assure regular exercise, to cure any
physical imperfection or disease, or for the furtherance of any desire for
investigation on natural or scientific subjects or points of interest
allied to the thing which you are seeking to attain. There is no need of
moderation in labor, exposure, or discomfort. Thus you will eventually
reach your ends, and may obtain results at which people will stand amazed,
believing them to be beyond the range of possibilities, as they will not
know that for years a systematic preparation has been going on to prepare