WOODY BASSETT: Things desired

Poem offers insights into a meaningful life

Desiderata is a 1920s prose poem by the American writer Max Ehrmann. It remained mostly unknown until it was widely circulated in the 1960s and '70s. A framed print of Ehrmann's poem has hung on a wall at my house for the past 35 years, not because it enhanced the look of the room but because the simple, yet profound, words of the poem serve as a quick and gentle reminder of how to live a better, happier and more content life.

Here are some of the meaningful passages found in Desiderata with my own brief comments after each one:

"Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence."

The hectic pace of daily life in today's world isn't conducive to staying calm, especially with a cell phone always within reach. Stretches of solitude are harder to come by these days but it's good for your mental health to escape the relentless hustle-and-bustle of life by finding ways to carve out time for moments of silence each day. That's one reason reading is so beneficial. Losing yourself in a good book, listening only to your own inner voice as you read, can be therapeutic.

"As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story."

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be respectful toward others. Foster good and positive relationships with people in your orbit, even those you barely know, without sacrificing your deeply-held values and beliefs. Don't let a difference of opinion, particularly about politics, wreck a friendship. Tell the truth as you see it but don't get in the face of someone who disagrees with your take on things. Listening seems to be a lost art in America but be mindful we usually learn more by listening than talking. Everyone, no matter their station in life, has their own story to tell.

"Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit."

The Internet, social media, television and radio are filled with way too many people like this. They seek attention and none should be paid to them. Don't let them infect your spirit, poison your mind or upset your heart.

"Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans."

Enjoy and take pride in your personal and professional achievements but don't flaunt them. Results and destinations are important but the real fun in life is the journey getting there.

"Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time."

Every job has value if done the right way. Try to find a career you like and do what it takes to become as good at it as you can. The happier you are at work, the better job you will do. An essential part of making a life for yourself and your family is the opportunity to make a living, preferably doing something you enjoy.

"[E]verywhere life is full of heroism."

Heroism abounds. But most of it is the unseen and unheard bravery and courage exhibited by countless common people who in their daily lives are overcoming the odds or lifting up others who are hurting or in dire need. We need heroes and have it within ourselves to be one when circumstances require it.

"Be yourself."

Be authentic. Don't pretend to be somebody you aren't. Doing so will only hurt yourself and others. Just embrace who you are as a person and make the most of it.

"Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings."

Don't waste time imagining all the bad things that could happen to you. Live in the moment. It's a given that life sometimes deals you a bad hand, often suddenly. When adversity strikes, strength of character and the power of love and prayer will sustain you and your family.

"[B]e gentle with yourself."

As long as you gave it your best shot, don't be too hard on yourself when you fail, make a mistake or something turns out differently than you had hoped. Learn from it and move on.

"[I]n the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

The world can be harsh at times. So can life itself. Some dreams will go unfulfilled. But never forget how lucky you are to be alive. Despite the dreadful things that happen, the world is still a beautiful place. Nourish your soul in whatever ways work for you. Maintain a steady cheerfulness. Put your best efforts into being happy.

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