The Joys of Living
To live free in an unfree world requires a change of mental outlook. Orison Swett Marden (1850–1924) is a fantastic coach for exactly that.
He was the biographer of the Gilded Age, a serious student of how people go from rags to riches. He founded Success magazine during a period when the US economy was freer than it was any time before or after. Marden admired the great men and women of this period, and he became their preferred philosopher, inspiring the likes of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and J.P. Morgan.
He was also the editor of Success magazine, a hugely influential publication during the age when Americans adored their inventors and entrepreneurs — and deeply loved the richest of the rich among them, though always cautioning them to retain their ideals and visions of utopia.
He studied the phenomenon of progress and tried to discern the causes of greatness. He located them in the hearts and minds of the men and women who made the difference. The point was not to celebrate privilege but rather to see the possibilities available to every person.
The Joys of Living is his instruction book for a rich, full, and free life. This 100th anniversary edition shows that his prose has lost none of its original power — and it is even more relevant now that we are faced with more obstacles to success. His core point is to look beyond the obstacles and become hyper-aware of the opportunities. He shows how in chapters on mental outlook, debt and money, reading and family life, hope and despair, and young and old age.
The greatest discovery of the time, he writes, was not a technology, but a philosophy. It was the philosophy that the individual human mind was the most productive resource on the planet, more powerful than all the natural resources or man-made machinery. It was the human mind that was the real source of progress and prosperity.
Previous generations believed they were trapped by fate, by class, by social position, or by forces more powerful than they. This generation saw the truth that nothing could contain an idea whose time had come, so long as there were great men and women around who believed in it and acted upon it.
Marden’s recipe is made of three parts: seeing, emulating, and acting. To his mind, there are no circumstances we face that would make doing this impossible. The source of joy is around us but we have to seek it, see it, embrace it, and expand upon it.
This little book beautifully encapsulates the capitalist spirit not only of his time but of all time. Indeed, this might be the most inspiring book you have ever read. But not because it solves all mysteries concerning who we are, how we got here, and what we should seek as the very purpose of life. He stays away from these larger questions, because it is the smaller questions that are more interesting and yield more actionable answers.
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