Who Are Your Patron Saints? Here Are Mine.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day.

This Wednesday: Six patron saints.

People often ask me, “Come on, what’s the key to happiness? If you had to pick one thing, what would you say?”

I think that question can be answered in several ways, depending on what framework you use.

But one answer would certainly be–self-knowledge. It’s the Fifth Splendid Truth: We can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature.

But it’s surprisingly hard to know yourself! So how can you sneak a glimpse into your own nature?

You can ask yourself: Whom do I envy? What do I lie about? The answers to these questions reveal the way in which your life doesn’t reflect your values.

You can ask yourself: What did I do for fun when I was ten years old? You’d probably enjoy as an adult a version of what you enjoyed as a ten-year-old.

You can ask yourself: What do I actually DO?

You can ask yourself: Who are my patron saints? (A “patron saint” is a saint who has a special connection to a person, place, profession, or activity, or in more casual terms, a person who serves as a particular leader or example.)

I have many patron saints, but here are six of them:

Benjamin Franklin: practical, curious, inventive.

St. Therese of Lisieux: showing great love through small, ordinary actions. St. Therese is also my spiritual master.

Samuel Johnson: wildly eccentric, with a deep understanding of human nature. This patron saint made it into the subtitle of Happier at Home!

Julia Child: goofy yet masterly; light-hearted yet authoritative. For some reason, she’s been on my mind lately.

Winston Churchill: indefatigable, indomitable. I wrote a biography of Churchill, Forty Ways To Look at Winston Churchill, so I have a special attachment to him.

Virginia Woolf: intensely attuned to the power of the passing moment.

When I look back on the pieces I’ve written about my patron saints, I see that they’re among my favorite posts.

How about you? Who are your patron saints, and why?

  • kim

    I’ve always felt a kinship with Mary Magdalene, mainly for being such an outcast my whole life. I’ll have to think on others, but they’d probably be for similar reasons.

  • peninith1

    Carl Jung, St. Therese, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mohandas Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Charlotte Bronte. These are the thinkers, saints, leaders and writers whose thoughts and actions have become models for me, have passed on their world view to me, have become so intimately a part of my own mind and thinking and (when I am pleased with myself) the way I live my life.

  • Greg

    Can’t argue with “any” of your patron saints. All are outstanding models of virtue.

  • Jay Lambert

    St. Thomas Aquinas for his intellect, St. Therese for her simple way, St. Joseph as the model father, and St. Augustine for his radical conversion through an insatiable search for truth, Mother Theresa for her willingness to completely give her life up in the service of the lowliest and poorest of society.

    • Emc

      Fantastic List! :)

  • Sandra Pawula

    My patron saint is a Buddhist master name Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He represents all enlightened beings and qualities wrapped up in one. His relaxed, spacious kindness and wisdom would shine brilliantly whatever he would do.

  • discoveredjoys

    That’s a tough question. I suspect that the idea of ‘Saints’ appeals to different people in different ways, according to their personalities. I don’t have saints as patrons or exemplars, but I have the highest respect for thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell.

  • TrapperDave

    George Washington Carver “If you love something enough it will give up its secrets” I am trying to love myself enough to find happiness. :-)

  • Charles Bradford

    I don’t have one

  • Carrie Pantier Caron

    Mr. Rodgers, Colin Powell, Benjamin Franklin and Anne Morrow-Lindberg

  • Dorcas

    Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Rachel Carson–people who stand for what they believe, regardless of the chaos and hostility around them. Admirable.

  • LainEhmann

    This is such a thought-provoking question. I’ll be considering it over the coming days. Wow. My mind is spinning already!

  • Megan Gordon

    I’d have to really give it some thought (haven’t done that before), but I know Julia would be on my list, too. Loved her.

  • Holly W

    Yogi Berra. He represents the honesty, simplicity and humor in life while being very successful and inspiring to others. He is my saint of humor. Who doesn’t love his Yogisms.

  • TJ

    I read somewhere that the qualities that we admire in others are those that people admire in us! Sometimes, we just can’t see it. Do people find this is true? (I like to think so).

  • Jody

    I have a LONG list. Don’t laugh, but Gretchen Rubin and The Happiness Project are on the short list.:)

    • gretchenrubin

      What an honor! Thank you.

  • Karen Clark

    Thomas Merton. When I am out of sorts, I open one of his journals at random and get restored. Especially the journals LEARNING TO LOVE and THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN are wonderful.

  • Hema Anandan

    Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Margret Tetcher, King Bumiphol, Mother Treasa…. my father Ponambalam – lead a life that leaves its track for others to get inspired and motivated – so that they too do the deeds in this very world. Each has left us many monumental dimensions that appell, marvells and be the nectar of inspiration…!

  • Susanne

    Okay, do NOT laugh. Dolly Parton. I adore her ferocious strength & adaptability & resilience, her pragmatism & let’s-get-it-done attitude, her sense of what’s important and what, simply, is not, her amazing talent, her focus & sense of purpose, her obvious joy and down-home ability to appreciate life, her fabulous sense of humor & willingness to laugh at herself (something most of us could do more often), her humanity & kindness, her deep sense of right & wrong, her spirituality, her belief in love, family & what matters most. There are plenty of others I look up to as well, but Dolly’s a major inspiration. And that laugh . . . I love people with a good belly laugh!

    • peninith1

      Nothing laughable about this list of great qualities you find in a very wonderful woman!

  • Kelsey Miller

    I’ve got a top three so far, but I still consider myself pretty young, so I’m leaving room for later. :-) 1. Mr. B., a high school teacher who taught me how to stay true to who I am, 2. Friedrich Schiller, a German who put some of my deepest intuitions into stunning words, and 3. You, a woman who came along in paperback form at just the right time and taught me that I have the power to cultivate and nurture my own happiness each and every day. I’m not trying to be flattering; I wanted to write this because I think it’s important for you to know how great an influence you have been – even just for one person. Thank you.

  • Margaret B

    Florence Nightingale for her perseverance, common sense and compassion; Helene Hanff for her humour and her passion for both literature and her adopted home, New York City; my late husband for loving me and believing in me even when I was unlovable and when no one else did.

  • Sycast 76

    As a Catholic, it is my understanding that a “Patron Saint” is one who demonstrates many extraordinary virtues, and has led an exemplary Christian life among many other things. They are also canonized by the Vatican after a long process of investigation. So I’m a little confused as to how this term is being used in this post. I’ve never heard of lay people though extraordinary in their own ways, being called a “Patron Saint.” Btw, I have many Saints close to my heart… One of my favorites is St. Catherine of Siena!