Ralph Waldo Emerson – Book Report

These are my notes on Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s notes on Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century Transcendental philosopher.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well… To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson reminded me that my purpose is to be happy, but to make a difference on at least one life. That is a successful life.


“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

Enthusiasm is contagious. I feed off other’s enthusiasm and I share mine with others. Enthusiasm’s mortal enemy is the cynic, who sucks the life out of other people.


“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.”


“And truly it demands something godlike in him who cast off the common motives of humanity and ventured to trust himself for a taskmaster.”


“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”


“God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”

“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”


“Good thoughts are no better than good dreams, unless they be executed!”


“Good luck is another name for tenacity of purpose.”


“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”


“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”


“Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”


“Envy is ignorance. Imitation is suicide.”

Just be you. Don’t try to be just like someone else. Don’t want to be someone else. You gotta want to be you.


“When nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it.”

And that genius is you.

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