Tips for cheering yourself up–from 1820.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Tips for cheering yourself up, from 1820.

In 1820, English writer Sydney Smith wrote a letter to an unhappy friend, Lady Morpeth, in which he offered her tips for cheering up. His suggestions are as sound now as they were almost 200 years ago.

“1st. Live as well as you dare.
2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75 or 80 degrees.
3rd. Amusing books.
4th. Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.
5th. Be as busy as you can.
6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th. Make no secret of low spirits to you friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
10th. Compare your lot with that of other people.
11th. Don’t expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.
12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence.
13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
14th Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th. Make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.
16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th. Keep good blazing fires.
19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
20th. Believe me, dear Lady Georgiana.”

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49 thoughts on “Tips for cheering yourself up–from 1820.”

  1. Gretchen, I adore this! So much common sense and heartfelt concern and from long ago too. If you don’t mind I shall link to it from my blog. Some things just never change… (It’s very romantic too isn’t it?)

  2. Trafopajka, I’m puzzled. How does someone of such profound shallowness find their way to this blog? Oh, and please go out and enjoy Strunk and White….

  3. Trying to puzzle out #12 — I can’t imagine an avoidance of music or poetry leading to happiness. I guess he means, never feel “obligated” to sit through a performance or read a “serious” work ifyou’re not enjoying; feel free to put the book aside and go out and play.

  4. Fake!
    Showers did not become common until the late 1800s. And in any case plumbed in hot water was virtually unheard of in 1820; not to mention that no-one ever talked about water temperature in Fahrenheit.
    There are also other suspicious things listed but I can’t be bothered to explain them.
    You are all products of the American higher education system for believing this. Plz. be less gullible in the future.
    And valium is the secret of happiness.

  5. Gretchen,
    I am so glad you are pursuing this project. I would love to discuss it with you. One of the main things I have been thinking about recently is the difference between mere physical enjoyment, and actual true soulfull happiness. Would love to catch up.
    All the best!
    Michael

  6. Dear Mr. Angry,
    I discovered this list by Sydney Smith in a well-known biography of Smith, written by Hesketh Pearson, “The Smith of Smiths” (1934), page 149. I believe this source is quite reliable. Perhaps that will help allay your suspicions. Best, Gretchen Rubin

  7. I have problems with the part re: comparing your life to others. Some people put up a good front for heartache and poverty. On the other hand, it’s good to remember that your life is better than many others, for no other reason than sheer luck, and you should be grateful.

  8. “12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence.”
    This has to be bad advice. It seems calculated to lead to a shallow happiness but not to a rich wisdom. Nevertheless, it seems to be common advice: one of the personal development bloggers that I otherwise most admire, Steve Pavlina, said a similar thing recently (http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/cultivating-burning-desire.htm):
    “First, avoid watching TV news — it’s overwhelmingly negative. […] If you like to watch movies, then watch movies that are full of positive energy, such as light-hearted comedies and stories of triumph over adversity. Avoid dark, tragic movies that leave you feeling empty afterwards. Dump the horror books, and replace them with humor books.”
    I think the horror books advice may be good. But it can’t be right not to be able to watch Breaking the Waves.

  9. In addition to the above-mentioned tips I would like to add one more tip for happiness, The 80/20 Principles.
    Too much to do, and too little time… It’s the universal challenge of the modern age, isn’t it?
    20% of thieves account for 80% of the value of all crime
    20% of drivers cause 80% of all car accidents
    20% of any community’s population utilizes 80% of its resources
    And if you look at your own personal life, you’ll find that about:
    20% of the time you spend at work accounts for 80% of what you achieve
    20% of your clothes are worn 80% of the time
    20% of your home’s carpeting receives 80% of the wear
    Well, the real power of the 80/20 Principle — the secret to using it as a tool for massive life transformation — lies in finding, focusing on, and exploiting the most important 20% of your resources in every situation in your life.

  10. Randy: Sorry but look at her color, she really needs the Sun. BTW, What’s wrong with the Sun?
    And sorry, I don’t know Strunk and White, I never listened to country’n’western or what kind of music does this duo play.

  11. I just don’t have much to say right now, but I guess it doesn’t bother me. Basically nothing seems worth thinking about. Nothing notable happening these days. Shrug. Not that it matters. My mind is like a void. I’ve basically been doing nothing , not that it matters. More or less nothing going on. I guess it doesn’t bother me. Not much on my mind.

  12. I’ve just been letting everything wash over me. I’ve pretty much been doing nothing. I’ve just been sitting around not getting anything done.

  13. Not much on my mind right now. Today was a complete loss. So it goes. I’ve just been sitting around waiting for something to happen. I’ve basically been doing nothing , but I guess it doesn’t bother me.

  14. Happiness is but one state of feeling and too much focus has been given to its attainment at the expense of the importance of other sates or emotions.
    There is no acceptable measure of happiness. Happiness measures rely on self report and also the persons idea of what feeling happy is. There is no set of physiological measurements to determine whether someone is feeling happy. Happiness is a subjective feeling i.e. what each individual associates to be a happy feeling – this gives individual differences on what happiness is all about and is especially highlighted when looking at cross cultural differences. The happy feeling is open to influence from what any individual ‘thinks’ should be making them happy when self reporting.
    The many scientists jumping on this fashionable band wagon have resulted in an explosion in research on happiness, optimism and positive emotions. Disciplines like Positive Psychology have emerged to encompass the scientific community playing catch up to popular demand of the highly sellable positive thinky material that had been available for a number of years.
    The positive thinky stuff is good to the extent that it gives importance to being solution focused. Theres has been far too much tendency to be problem focused. However, in the therapeutic world this positive thinky view causes problems. It seems that a shift is occuring from too much time focusing on problems to focusing on thinking/feeling/behaving differently: that is good to a certain extent because it gives emphasis that change is needed and helps in giving change a direction/goal. However, this approach is not appropriate as a stand alone recipe for therapeutic change in all cases. The problems arise when positive techniques end up papering over the cracks and just work as a psychological pain control only for symptoms to surface again later – and sometimes worse. Renaming and behaving differently about symptoms does not mean the cause of those symptoms go away. Psychological, just as physical, pain control should be used wisely. Sourcing where psychological pain comes from allows healing to occur much more readily than if the source is unknown – as with a physical source of pain. Lets not go from one extreme to the other.
    The whole personal positive thinky happiness quest can become a factor in deluding oneself from the reality of life and the ability to overcome problems if it is done by sacrificing the importance of experiencing, understanding and the attainment of other states.

  15. Happiness is but one state of feeling and too much focus has been given to its attainment at the expense of the importance of other sates or emotions.
    There is no acceptable measure of happiness. Happiness measures rely on self report and also the persons idea of what feeling happy is. There is no set of physiological measurements to determine whether someone is feeling happy. Happiness is a subjective feeling i.e. what each individual associates to be a happy feeling – this gives individual differences on what happiness is all about and is especially highlighted when looking at cross cultural differences. The happy feeling is open to influence from what any individual ‘thinks’ should be making them happy when self reporting.
    The many scientists jumping on this fashionable band wagon have resulted in an explosion in research on happiness, optimism and positive emotions. Disciplines like Positive Psychology have emerged to encompass the scientific community playing catch up to popular demand of the highly sellable positive thinky material that had been available for a number of years.
    The positive thinky stuff is good to the extent that it gives importance to being solution focused. Theres has been far too much tendency to be problem focused. However, in the therapeutic world this positive thinky view causes problems. It seems that a shift is occuring from too much time focusing on problems to focusing on thinking/feeling/behaving differently: that is good to a certain extent because it gives emphasis that change is needed and helps in giving change a direction/goal. However, this approach is not appropriate as a stand alone recipe for therapeutic change in all cases. The problems arise when positive techniques end up papering over the cracks and just work as a psychological pain control only for symptoms to surface again later – and sometimes worse. Renaming and behaving differently about symptoms does not mean the cause of those symptoms go away. Psychological, just as physical, pain control should be used wisely. Sourcing where psychological pain comes from allows healing to occur much more readily than if the source is unknown – as with a physical source of pain. Lets not go from one extreme to the other.
    The whole personal positive thinky happiness quest can become a factor in deluding oneself from the reality of life and the ability to overcome problems if it is done by sacrificing the importance of experiencing, understanding and the attainment of other states.

  16. I just don’t have much to say right now, but I guess it doesn’t bother me. Basically nothing seems worth thinking about. Nothing notable happening these days. Shrug. Not that it matters. My mind is like a void. I’ve basically been doing nothing , not that it matters. More or less nothing going on. I guess it doesn’t bother me. Not much on my mind.

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