And although a lot of things have changed since they were around, the Founding Fathers’ advice has aged remarkably well, and continues to inform our idea of what it means to live a good life.
Here’s what eight of the Founding Fathers have said about what success really means.
The first US president, George Washington, believed that a good life had to be an ethical one. “Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected,” he once asserted.
Washington frequently spoke about the importance of putting all of one’s focus on following a higher purpose. “Make sure you are doing what God wants you to do–then do it with all your strength,” Washington said.
For John Adams, the ethical life was the successful life: “To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do,” he said. Adams also explained that his years of living taught him that success is more about simple, everyday acts of kindness and faith than money or big accomplishments.
“The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know,” Adams said. “Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly [with your God]. This is enough.”
According to Thomas Jefferson, the secret to success is all in your head.
“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal,” said Jefferson. “Nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”
Benjamin Franklin, who was part of the original Committee of Five who drafted the Declaration of Independence, has come to be remembered as an early guru of productivity and self-improvement. In The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, he wrote of the importance of virtues like patience, moderation and humility.
“He that can have patience can have what he will,” said Franklin.
James Madison is considered to be the “Father of the Constitution.” For Madison, there could be no success in governments, communities and families without trust.
“The circulation of confidence is better than the circulation of money,” said Madison.
James Monroe spoke of honor as the highest value and determinant of success, both for the individual and for the country.
“National honor is the national property of the highest value,” Monroe said.
Revolutionary Samuel Adams not only helped organize the Boston Tea Party and founded the Sons of Liberty, but he also helped write the Articles of Confederation and the Massachusetts Constitution before becoming governor of Massachusetts. Adams valued freedom above all else.
“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace,” Adams said. “We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
American patriot and Virginia delegate George Mason, sometimes called the “Father of the United States Bill of Rights,” advised keeping failure and negative life events in perspective.
“A few years’ experience will convince us that those things which at the time they happened we regarded as our greatest misfortunes have proved our greatest blessings,” said Mason.
See deep wants.
I did my Ph.D. dissertation by videotaping 20 mother-toddler pairs and analyzing what happened when the mom offered an alternative to a problematic want (“not the chainsaw, sweetie, how about this red truck”). Hundreds of bleary-eyed hours later, I found that offering alternatives reduced child negative emotion and increased cooperation with the parent.
Pretty interesting (at least to me, both as a new parent and as someone desperate to finish grad school). And there’s an even deeper lesson. Kids — and adults, too, — obviously want to get what they want from others. But more fundamentally, we want to know that others understand our wants — and even more fundamentally, that they want to.
Consider any significant relationship: someone at work or a friend or a family member. How does it feel when they misinterpret what you want? Or worse, when they could care less about understanding what you want?
When you recognize the deeper wants of others, they feel seen and are less likely to be reactive. Plus you’ve gained lots of valuable information. And it becomes easier to ask them to do the same for you.
This approach also gradually reveals the profound desires at the center of being. Each person must come to know these in his or her own way. These quintessential leanings of the heart are beyond language. Diffidently and with respect, I could offer three words — fingers pointing at the moon but the not moon itself — that are suggestive: to be conscious, free and loving.
For you, what are the deepest wants of all?
With a friend or a stranger, look deeper, behind the eyes, beneath the surface. You might sense a wish for pleasure, a commitment to others, a priority on security, a delight in life, a valuing of autonomy or a need for love.
Look down into your own core of being and into its longings, and you’ll find many of the same wishes. They’re just as powerful and precious to the other person as they are to you.
Deep down, most wants are positive. The means to these ends may be misguided, but the fundamental ends themselves are usually good ones. Typically, even horrible behaviors are misguided efforts to gain positive things like pleasure, independence, recognition, control or justice. Of course, this is not to justify these actions in any way. But grounding oneself in the truth, the whole truth, means seeing the whole picture, including the good intentions poignantly producing bad behavior.
Try applying this truth to yourself, regarding some act you regret. What positive aims did the act serve? What’s it like to recognize this? For me, opening to see the good aims underlying bad acts actually softens my defensiveness and helps move me to appropriate remorse, and to greater resolve to find better ways to pursue those aims. It also cuts through harsh self-criticism and encourages self-compassion.
Then, during an interaction with someone who is difficult for you — or while reflecting about the relationship as a whole — try to see the deeper wants in the other person, behind the acts of thought, word, or deed that have bothered or hurt you. (I suggest you don’t do this if you tend to blame yourself when others mistreat you.) You may not like how the other person is pursuing the deep want, but at least you can align with that want — all deep wants are positive — and if you like, try to figure out less-harmful ways to fulfill it.
Last, on the fly or at particularly quiet moments, open to listen to the soft murmurs of your own most fundamental wants. In what ways are you sincerely trying to fulfill them?
Also: are there any of your deepest wants that it feels right to do more for? What would that look like, concretely, in everyday life?
Imagine your deepest wants like a soft warm current at your back, gently and powerfully carrying you forward along the long road ahead. How would this feel?
Where would this road lead?
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (from Random House in October, 2013; in 4 languages), Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (New Harbinger; in 24 languages), Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (New Harbinger; in 12 languages), and Mother Nurture: A Mother’s Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships (Penguin). Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and an Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA, his work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, CBC, FoxBusiness, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and O Magazine and he has several audio programs with Sounds True. His weekly e-newsletter – Just One Thing – has over 92,000 subscribers, and also appears on Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and other major websites.
Walmart’s new chemical policy sends a loud and clear message to the market: People don’t want to buy toxic products.
The list of priority chemicals has not been released to the public — ironic, considering Walmart’s call for greater transparency — but we can guess at likely suspects from Procter & Gamble’s recent announcement that it is dropping phthalates and triclosan. Johnson & Johnson is also on record with plans to eliminate phthalates, triclosan, parabens and formaldehyde — chemicals consumer groups have been pressuring companies for years to remove.
While we’re left guessing at the chemicals, and wondering how meaningful the fragrance disclosure requirements will be, we know one thing for certain: This is a huge victory for the millions of people who are demanding safer products. Walmart’s new policy signals a sea change for companies: complying with regulatory requirements is no longer enough; consumer demand has grown too loud to ignore.
From my perspective, having worked for more than 10 years on efforts to shift the beauty industry to safer chemicals, Walmart’s new chemicals policy offers three big takeaway lessons.
1) Advocacy campaigns work: Walmart would not have taken this bold step were it not for the aggressive corporate campaigns and grassroots organizing efforts of nonprofit organizations such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics coalition, its founding groups Breast Cancer Fund, EWG, Clean Water Action, Women’s Voices for the Earth, Commonweal and Friends of the Earth; allies Black Women for Wellness, Cancer Schmancer, Teens Turning Green, WEACT for Environmental Justice, Coming Clean, Story of Stuff and so many others. These groups are crucial to our democracy and our future — please support them!
This also would not have happened without every one of you, millions of you, who are making conscious choices at the store, contacting companies, starting companies, selling better products, educating your communities, standing up for what’s right. This is an unstoppable movement to protect our families, move the market to saner and safer practices, and change the world.
2) Now we have to double down: The stakes are high, and keep getting higher. New science, emerging constantly, is making clear that toxic chemicals in our air, water, food and household products can impact our health in subtle yet profound ways. Just this week, the Breast Cancer Fund released a review of the scientific literature on bisphenol A (BPA), indicating that the chemical found in most canned foods can disrupt fetal development and set the stage for later-life diseases, including breast cancer.
We know too much now to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them. We know that babies are born with hundreds of toxic chemicals inside their umbilical cord blood. We know it’s time to clean this mess up. And we know how to win.
The world’s largest corporations are listening, and its time for our voices to get stronger and louder. We have the power to move the market. Let’s keep using it.
3) And take the long view: Walmart’s new policy will force the largest cosmetics corporations (some kicking and screaming, no doubt) down the path to safer chemicals and transparency — and it’s a long road ahead. The 10 chemicals Walmart is prioritizing are just the tip of the iceberg. As we know from the many reports by Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and EWG’s Skin Deep database, personal care products often contain dozens of toxic chemicals, as do many of the products in our homes. Check out the Hazardous Hundred Chemicals developed by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families for a good start to the “do not buy” and “do not use” list.
Dealing with chemicals is a huge challenge for corporations. As Walmart pointed out, there are 80,000 chemicals in consumable products today. And we’re just beginning to understand the health effects of a portion of them. As companies move away from hazardous chemicals, they need to make sure they are not jumping from the frying pan into the fire with unknown or worse chemicals. The work of Clean Production Action, particularly the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals, are essential tools for companies that want to take a comprehensive approach to sustainable chemicals management — and there is no other way to do it.
I am so happy to have worked with all these fine nonprofit groups, inspiring people and the tens of thousands of people in the Safe Cosmetics network. I’m excited and hopeful that we have turned a corner with corporate relations (thanks EDF for all your fine work with Walmart!) and that there is a sincere effort to build bridges between industry and the advocacy community that have too often been at odds. We have more in common than we have differences and there is too much at stake — all of us want a healthy future where kids are safe from toxic chemicals and babies are born in the healthiest possible conditions.
As one champion for safe cosmetics, rock star Kristi Marsh, put it after seeing the Walmart announcement on the list serve: “This is breath taking. The potential of this statement to vendors, to businesses, to consumers is the evidence of the momentum gaining power. It’s not over, but I have full faith that green will now decidedly be the new mainstream with continued pushing. Deep gratitude for every single passionate person on this list.”
Deep gratitude back at you, to all of you. I’m excited to see what’s next.
Stacy Malkan is a co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of the award-winning book, “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.”
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