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Advice from Henry David Thoreau

Updated on September 10, 2012

The man, the myth, the legend


As life is so short, one may ponder how to best spend their existence with the time they've been given. Henry David Thoreau was one such who valued his time on Earth and diligently endeavored to make the most of it. He proffered much insight upon the best means and modes of living, with strong opinions and recommendations.

If there ever was an advocate of simplicity, Thoreau was. "I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we live simply and wisely," he had said. Though everything can be reduced to utmost minimalism of effort or embellishments, however, it is not the way that everything must be. We may indulge in hedonistic pleasures as desserts, movies, and new clothes, without having to sit, listless, just eating, drinking, and breathing. Humans need not spend a life devoid of "unnecessary" joy and entertainment.

It may be agreed upon that the world turns too quickly for many people, with too little time in the day to accomplish what we wish. In fact, many live in such haste, that "we are determined to be starved before we are hungry," as Thoreau stated. To live in such a way, dashing through life and missing the inconspicuous wonders it offers, forever, is a shame. As this is the only life we are given, it seems most appropriate to seize the opportunity and savor it as completely as possible. Here may also be considered a suitable instance when minimizing the events and items in one's life may become most helpful in its relief of stress, and thus the achievement of substantial happiness.

Thoreau also believed that "we must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep." There is nothing as the envelopment of oneself amidst the pristine beauty of Nature, as opposed to that of multiple manmade creations, which can provide such comfort and bliss. The dependence upon that of which we have no control is strangely appealing.

Many times have I found solace in acquiescing to Nature's immaculate silence and bounteous simplicity; once, when I felt nothing was going my way, and all seemed convoluted and bleak, there was nothing as the refreshing quality of truly clean air, and a breathtaking expanse of open sky of the richest shades, to calm a wild spirit and revert it to its original innocence, if only for a moment, placating as a touch of heaven.

Finally, it cannot be sufficiently stressed the importance and power of the individual will. "The youth may build or plant or sail, only let him not be hindered from doing that which he tells me he would like to do," Thoreau thought. Wouldn't it be piteous to not even live your life the way you wish? Surely there are some things one cannot do, as much as they wish to, such as murdering someone and stealing their belongings. It is no crime, however, to do as you wish with moderation, reason, and consideration of others.

Though one may disagree with Thoreau's principles and priorities, in their inconsistency, awkwardness, or needlessness, one may heed and concur with their universal truths and fundamental ideas, and their capabilities of being applied to all eras and generations. Life should not be too complex, fast, or shallow, but at the same time not too simple or slow. It's fair to say that with moderation in all things, a most valuable life can be best achieved.


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    • jfrabe profile image

      jfrabe 6 years ago from Cooper City, FL

      Nice summary! Thoreau's materialistic lifestyle is a very logical response to the materialistic emptiness of the 21st Century. Thoreau reasons that meaning can be found in a rejection of materialism and a Transcendental appreciation of the divine in nature. Interestingly, his proposed solution to materialism conflicts with his professed religious beliefs! This is seen most clearly in "Walden." If you have any interest in this philosophical tension, my review of the autobiographical novel is here:

    • profile image

      Adiza2 6 years ago

      Only the god can be my savior

    • Mike's Corner profile image

      Mike's Corner 7 years ago from Maryland

      Sage advice passed down from one of our national treasures . . . thanks for the great hub!

    • ocoonocoon profile image

      ocoonocoon 7 years ago

      I am reading Walden now. I am finding that it is a great read! I think Thoreau was very conscious of how American writers compared to the European intellectuals. America is a young country and it does need its own literary heritage! He was one of the ones who built its foundation, I think.

      Anyway, his biggest lesson seems to be "think for yourself," and I support that notion all the way!

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you both for your comments! I still feel that there's so much I'd like to learn about him. I didn't know Walden Pond was in the Boston area... so there's something I learned today! :)

    • profile image

      MAMBORD 8 years ago

      Really interesting, glassvisage.I'd never heard about Thoreau. I've found his opinons like that refreshing truly clean air that you've written. Perhaps the essence of your writing is in that inmaculate silence. Thank you

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 8 years ago from Tampa Bay

      very nice to read here. I've always enjoyed reading Thoreau and pondering on his words and reflections about life. A couple of years ago I toured Walden Pond and took the hike to the original spot where he had built his small home in the woods. the entire area around Walden Pond is so quiet and beautiful, it was easy to see how many great writers came from this area outside of Boston. I think we need more of his wisdom now. wonderful to read tonight. :]