An Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith
Entry #7 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
Cheerfulness is the best promoter of health.
Give us, oh give us, the man who sings at his work.
Age without cheerfulness is like a Lapland winter without the sun.
An ounce of cheerfulness is worth a pound of sadness.
The habit of looking at the bright side of things
is better than an income of a thousand a year.
We all love the company of cheerful people, but we do not think, as much as we ought to, of the nature of cheerfulness itself. Because we find that some people are naturally cheerful, we are apt to forget that cheerfulness is a habit which can be cultivated by all. Whether we do or do not possess a cheerful disposition, depends very largely upon our own efforts; for if we will endeavor, while still in our early years, to form the habit of looking on the bright side of things, and then persist in this course as we grow older, we shall certainly attain to that habitual cheerfulness which makes the lives of those we admire so sunny and so pleasing.
Even the smallest matters may aid us in forming this habit. Perhaps you have heard of the little girl who noticed, while eating her dinner that the golden rays of the sun fell upon her spoon. She put the spoon to her mouth, and then exclaimed, “O mother! I have swallowed a whole spoonful of sunshine.”
Cheerfulness consists in that happy frame of mind which is best described as the shutting out of all that pertains to the morbid, the gloomy, the fretful, and the discontented. The perfection of cheerfulness is displayed in general good temper united to much kindliness of heart. It arises partly from personal goodness, and partly from belief in the goodness of others. Its face is ever directed toward happiness. It sees “the glory in the grass, the sunshine on the flower.” It encourages happy thoughts, and lives in an atmosphere of peace. It costs nothing, and yet is invaluable; for it blesses its possessor, and affords a large measure of enjoyment to others.
Cheerfulness bears the same friendly regard to the mind as to the body. It banishes all anxious care and discontent, soothes and composes the passions, and keeps the soul in a perpetual calm. Try for a single day to keep yourself in an easy and cheerful frame of mind; and then compare the day with one which has been marred by discontent, and you will find your heart open to every good motive, and your life so greatly strengthened, that you will wonder at your own improvement, and will feel that you are more than repaid for the effort.
Goethe once said, “Give me the man who bears a heavy load lightly, and looks on a grave matter with a blithe and cheerful eye.” And Carlyle has pointed out that “One is scarcely sensible of fatigue whilst he marches to music. The very stars are said to make harmony as they revolve in their spheres. Wondrous is the strength of cheerfulness; altogether past calculation its power of endurance. Efforts, to be permanently useful, must be uniformly joyous–a spirit all sunshine, graceful from very gladness, beautiful because bright.”
This spirit of cheerfulness should be encouraged in our youth if we would wish to have the benefit of it in our old age. Persons who are always innocently cheerful and good-humored are very useful in the world; they maintain peace and happiness, and spread a thankful temper among all who live around them.
“A little word in kindness spoken
A motion or a tear,
Has often healed a heart that’s broken,
And made a friend sincere.”
Cheerfulness does not depend upon the measure of our possessions. There is a Persian story to the effect that the great king, being out of spirits, consulted his astrologers, and was told that happiness could be found by wearing the shirt of a perfectly happy man. The court, and the homes of all the prosperous classes were searched in vain; no such man could be found. At last a common laborer was found to fulfill the conditions; he was absolutely happy; but, alas! the remedy was as far off as ever, for the man had no shirt.
The same truth may be illustrated by a reference to the life and character of the Roman emperor, Nero. Few persons ever had greater means and opportunities for self-gratification. From the senator to the slave, everybody in the empire crouched in servile subjection before his throne. Enormous revenues from the provinces were poured into his coffers, and no one dared criticize his manner of spending them. He was absolute monarch, holding the destinies of millions at his will. He came to the throne at seventeen; and during the fifteen years of his reign he exhausted every known means of passionate indulgence. He left nothing untried or untouched that could stimulate the palate, or arouse his passions, or administer in any way to his pleasure. After the great fire in Rome, he built his golden palace, and said, “Now at last I am lodged like a man”; but alas! his search for happiness was in vain. During his later years he never knew a really cheerful day; and, at last, he was forced to flee before his outraged people, and took refuge in a miserable hut, trembling like a base coward, where, at his own request, a slave did him the favor to end his miserable life.
In one of his famous essays, Addison says, “I have always preferred cheerfulness to mirth. The latter I consider as an act, the former as a habit of the mind. Mirth is like a flash of lightning that breaks through a gloom of clouds, and glitters for a moment; cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity.”
Cheerfulness and good spirits depend in a great degree upon bodily causes; but much may be done for the promotion of this frame of mind. “Persons subject to low spirits should make the room in which they live as cheerful as possible; hanging up pictures or prints, and filling the odd nooks and corners with beautiful ornaments. A bay window looking upon pleasant objects, and, above all, a large fire whenever the weather will permit, are favorable to good spirits, and the tables near should be strewed with books and pamphlets.” “To this,” says Sydney Smith, “must be added as much eating and drinking as is consistent with health; and some manual employment for men–as gardening, a carpenter’s shop, or a turning-lathe. Women have always manual employment enough, and it is a great source of cheerfulness.” For children, fresh air, occupation, and outdoor sports are great helps in overcoming depression and gloom.
There are a few noble natures whose very presence carries sunshine with them wherever they go; a sunshine which means pity for the poor, sympathy for the suffering, help for the unfortunate, and kindness toward all. It is the sunshine, and not the cloud, that colors the flower. There is more virtue in one sunbeam than in a whole hemisphere of cloud and gloom.
A man of this stamp is found in Sydney Smith, an English clergyman and writer of great distinction, who was born in 1771, and died in 1845. His was a sunny temperament. Noted for his wit, he was equally famous for his kindness. He hated injustice; he praised virtue; he pierced humbugs; he laughed away trouble; he preached and lived the gospel of Christian cheerfulness.
Smith helped to found the Edinburgh Review, and he advocated putting on the title-page this truthful, too truthful, sentence: “We cultivate literature on a little oatmeal.” Poor but happy, this jest is characteristic of the man. His name became known: his society was sought. Macaulay and he were called “the great talkers.” He moved to London, and gave lectures on moral philosophy that drew crowds, so that the carriages of fashion blocked the streets. He was the charm of every circle. His pen was always on the side of progress and good fellowship.
At every turn in life he made light of vexations, and never allowed himself or those with him to indulge in morbid ideas, imaginative forebodings, or resentment. This is what he wrote to his daughter: “I am not situated as I should choose; but I am resolved to like it, and to reconcile myself to it; which is more manly than to feign myself above it and send up complaints of being thrown away.” One of his favorite expressions was, “Let us glorify the room”; which meant, throw up the shades and let in the sunshine.
The following anecdote will help to show his bright and sparkling disposition: At dinner with a large party of famous men and women, a French scientist annoyed all the rest by loudly arguing for atheism, and proclaimed his belief that there is no God. “Very good soup this,” struck in Sydney Smith. “Yes, monsieur, it is excellent,” replied the atheist. “Pray, sir,” continued Smith, “do you believe in a cook?” The ounce of wit was worth a pound of argument.
He is one of the very few men whose names have been handed down to us by reason of the possession of this gift, and his career should be more fully studied.
This Article is an Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith, which is available from Better Days Books in quality hardbound, sturdy trade paperback and convenient .PDF e-book editions starting at just $4.95.
Industry, Ambition, Self Control, Self-Respect, Courtesy, Faithfulness, Courage, Duty, Honesty, Enthusiasm, Humility, Patriotism… In every era of our Nation’s history, the true alchemy by which ordinary boys have been transformed into Great American Men has always and only occurred where these indispensible moral principles have been successfully applied. In an age like our own, where such manly ideals are openly mocked and derided by our popular culture, it’s time to turn to the past to recapture a clear vision of what it takes to be a Great American, and the true moral and ethical ladder that leads reliably to its attainment.
You Can Be a Great American: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness was first published in 1900, under the title The True Citizen, How to Become One, and contains 39 essential lessons in manhood tailored to each age and transition in a boy’s life, from infancy to adulthood. It is the clearest roadmap to American Greatness ever compiled for the youth of our Nation, and remains as life-changing today as it was when first published, over 100 years ago.
Whether you are an adult raising boys in a Traditional family setting, the single parent of a son, or a boy abandoned to no or poor parenting, left to grab your own bootstraps and lift yourself up to a life of achievement, success and All-American Greatness (or an adult who knows a boy in such sad straits), You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness is the only guidebook you’ll ever need.