A guide to living

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

That's what we want, isn't it? A guidebook to help us make sense of living, filled with lessons learned. Some use the Bible for that purpose. Fine book. But Ralph Waldo Emerson, the prophet of Self-Reliance, said we should write our own bibles. No single version covers everything, of course, but in the last four years, the very nature of truth has been called into question and many feel we've lost our bearings. We seem to be working without a net … or an instruction manual … or a compass. Right now, we could use some guidance.


Maybe the secret of life is actually living. And the meaning of life is living meaningfully.


"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." (James Taylor, "Secret O' Life")


The morning after you've done laundry is the best — life is full of choices.


Make your bed every day. No matter what else happens, you'll know there is order somewhere.


"Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck." (Dalai Lama)


The only dangerous idea is that ideas are dangerous. 


"You can't reason somebody out of a position he didn't reason himself into." (Des Moines Register columnist Donald Kaul)


Perfectionism describes the approach, not the result.


"The mind is a terrific servant but a terrible master." (David Foster Wallace)


"You have to be willing to let go of the life you planned in order to make room for the life you're meant to live." (Maria Shriver, AARP magazine interview)


"There are two kinds of suffering: The kind that leads to more suffering and the kind that leads to less." (Vinny Ferraro)


"Everybody makes their own fun. If you don't make it yourself, it's not fun. It's entertainment." (From the film "State and Main")


Never fear. We are surrounded by micro-heroes, people who are quietly heroic. 


"Find the good and praise it." (Alex Haley)


"My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectations." (Michael J. Fox, from an interview in AARP magazine)


People remember your actions more than your words.


"It's better to be a pilot light than a firecracker." (Rep. John Lewis)


"Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy." (Source unknown)


"Grandma never wasted anything that came into her kitchen. She used everything. That's a good model for us. Use everything." (On Being interview with Nikki Giovanni)


Taking off our shoes at airport security is uncomfortable, but also humbling and egalitarian. It is democratically therapeutic.

"Sometimes the greatest journey is the distance between two people." (Promo for the film "The Painted Veil")


"Don't be afraid of the answer." (Esquire magazine, "What I've Learned" feature)


"You'll get a lot further with people if you use their first name." (Esquire, ditto)


We hunger to escape the clamoring of our appetites.


The conventional wisdom on conventional wisdom is that it's true, which is often false.


Stereotyping is the process of drawing overly broad conclusions from an overly narrow sample. Prejudiced people are notoriously bad statisticians.


Trying, we may not succeed, but we may inspire someone else to try, and so on, until eventually someone succeeds.


Thoreau said the majority lead lives of quiet desperation. Better to be among the minority who lead lives of quiet exhilaration.


With some frequency, we need to experience the unvarnished goodness of being alive.


On a regular basis, surround yourself with greatness. A sky filled with massive clouds. The shoreless ocean. Majestic mountains. Put yourself in perspective.


"The dissenter is every human being at those moments of his life when he resigns momentarily from the herd and thinks for himself." (Archibald MacLeish) 


"A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for." (John A. Shedd, 1928, Salt from My Attic)


"No one has ever hated themselves into becoming a better person." (Vinny Ferraro)


"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." (Michael Pollan, "In Defense of Food – An Eater's Manifesto")


"You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough." (Attributed to Mae West)


We may not be able to fly, but so much of life involves defying gravity.


Impatience and hurry are the enemy of the long walk to forever. Once your pace quickens, you're back in rat-race time.


There are two approaches to life: "bracing against the bad vs. embracing the good." (Ross Gay, On Being interview, author of The Book of Delights)


Fear of dying is not a good enough reason to keep living. Without a good reason to live, you're just on life support.


"It comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying." (From the film "Shawshank Redemption")


"You can only die once. Don't die every day in anticipation." (Carol Di Matteo)


"Do not be afraid of the true dragon!" (Zen calendar, 2005)

Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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