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A Short Guide to a Happy Life

  • Date: 08/27/2005
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: UA Commencement (a.m.), E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall
  • Broadcasting executive Ted Turner once compared life to that of a B-movie. "You don't want to leave in the middle of it," he said, "but you don't want to see it again."
    (Turner, Ted, International Herald Tribune, Paris, March 2, 1990)

    Indeed, we play a major role in determining the screenplay of our life's story. To achieve happiness, we can be selective in what we do and, in some cases, what we choose to remember.

    This message is fittingly outlined by award-winning columnist Anna Quindlen, and she tells us: "My work is human nature. Real life is really all I know."
    (Quindlen, Anna, A Short Guide to a Happy Life, New York, 2000, p. 4)

    She confesses that as a novelist, she is not particularly qualified to give advice and that each time she delivers a commencement speech she feels somewhat like a fraud.

    Still, in a recently published small book, she dispenses a tremendous amount of insight. So, let me share with you portions of A Short Guide to a Happy Life, in her own words:

    "Don't ever confuse...your life and your work," she writes..."The second is only a part of the first."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "...a friend once wrote to Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator had decided not to run for reelection because (of health problems): ‘No(one) ever said on (their) deathbed (that they) wish (that they) had spent more time at the office.'"
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "Don't ever forget the words on a postcard that my father sent me last year: ‘If you win the rat race, you're still a rat.'"
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "Or what John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down: ‘Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.'"
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    Quindlen goes on to write: "...when you look at the faces of a class of graduating seniors, you realize that each student has only one thing that no one else has. When you leave college, there are thousands of people out there with the same degree you have; when you get a job, there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life..."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "So I suppose the best piece of advice I could give anyone is pretty simple: get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house...."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "Get a life, in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "Get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your regular phone, for that matter. Keep still. Be present."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time I look at my (degree) I remember that I am still a student, still learning every day how to be human. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Kiss your mom. Hug your dad."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "Get a life in which you are generous...look at a full moon hanging silver in the black sky on a cold night. And realize that life is glorious and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around...give to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Tutor a seventh-grader."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "All of us want to do well. But if we do not do ‘good,' too, then doing ‘well' will never be enough."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "It's ironic that we forget so often (just) how wonderful life really is. We have more time than ever before to remember it..."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "C'mon, let's be honest. We have an embarrassment of riches. Life is good."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "I don't mean in any cosmic way...I think of (life) in all its small component parts...Life is made up of moments, small pieces of flittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won't happen. We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "I learned to live many years ago...I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that this is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "I learned to look at all the good in the world and try to give some of it back, because I believed in it completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned, even though so many people may have thought I sounded like a Pollyanna."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness, because, if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "Anyone can learn all those things, out there in the world. You just need to get a life, a real life, a full life, a professional life, yes, but another life, too."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

    "School never ends. The classroom is everywhere. The exam comes at the very end..."
    (Quindlen, Ibid)

     


    * Title of book, A Short Guide to a Happy Life, by Anna Quindlen

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