Chapter 15 - Would You Take A Million Dollars For What You Have?

23 April 2022

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I have known Harold Abbott for years. He lives at 820 South Madison Avenue, Webb City,
Missouri. He used to be my lecture manager. One day he and I met in Kansas City and he
drove me down to my farm at Belton, Missouri. During that drive, I asked him how he
kept from worrying; and he told me an inspiring story that I shall never forget.
"I used to worry a lot," he said, "but one spring day in 1934, I was walking down West
Dougherty Street in Webb City when I saw a sight that banished all my worries. It all
happened in ten seconds, but during those ten seconds I learned more about how to live
than I had learned in the previous ten years. For two years I had been running a grocery
store in Webb City," Harold Abbott said, as he told me the story. "I had not only lost all
my savings, but I had incurred debts that took me seven years to pay back. My grocery
store had been closed the previous Saturday; and now I was going to the Merchants and
Miners Bank to borrow money so I could go to Kansas City to look for a job.
I walked like a beaten man. I had lost all my fight and faith. Then suddenly I saw coming
down the street a man who had no legs. He was sitting on a little wooden platform
equipped with wheels from roller skates. He propelled himself along the street with a
block of wood in each hand. I met him just after he had crossed the street and was
starting to lift himself up a few inches over the kerb to the sidewalk. As he tilted his
little wooden platform to an angle, his eyes met mine. He greeted me with a grand
smile. 'Good morning, sir. It is a fine morning, isn't it?' he said with spirit. As I stood
looking at him, I realised how rich I was. I had two legs. I could walk. I felt ashamed of
my self-pity. I said to myself if he can be happy, cheerful, and confident without legs, I
certainly can with legs. I could already feel my chest lifting. I had intended to ask the
Merchants and Miners Bank for only one hundred dollars. But now I had courage to ask
for two hundred. I had intended to say that I wanted to go to Kansas City to try to get a
job. But now I announced confidently that I wanted to go to Kansas City to get a job. I
got the loan; and I got the job.
"I now have the following words pasted on my bathroom mirror, and I read them every
morning as I shave:
I had the blues because I had no shoes,
Until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet."
I once asked Eddie Rickenbacker what was the biggest lesson he had learned from
drifting about with his companions in life rafts for twenty-one days, hopelessly lost in
the Pacific. "The biggest lesson I learned from that experience," he said, "was that if you
have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat, you ought
never to complain about anything."
Time ran an article about a sergeant who had been wounded on Guadalcanal. Hit in the
throat by a shell fragment, this sergeant had had seven blood transfusions. Writing a
note to his doctor, he asked: "Will I live?" The doctor replied: "Yes." He wrote another
note, asking: "Will I be able to talk?" Again the answer was yes. He then wrote another
note, saying: "Then what in hell am I worrying about?"
Why don't you stop right now and ask yourself: "What in the hell am I worrying about?"
You will probably find that it is comparatively unimportant and insignificant.
About ninety per cent of the things in our lives are right and about ten per cent are
wrong. If we want to be happy, all we have to do is to concentrate on the ninety per
cent that are right and ignore the ten per cent that are wrong. If we want to be worried
and bitter and have stomach ulcers, all we have to do is to concentrate on the ten per
cent that are wrong and ignore the ninety per cent that are glorious.
The words "Think and Thank" are inscribed in many of the Cromwellian churches of
England. These words ought to be inscribed in our hearts, too: "Think and Thank". Think
of all we have to be grateful for, and thank God for all our boons and bounties.
Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, was the most devastating pessimist in
English literature. He was so sorry that he had been born that he wore black and fasted
on his birthdays; yet, in his despair, this supreme pessimist of English literature praised
the great health-giving powers of cheerfulness and happiness. "The best doctors in the
world," he declared, "are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman."
You and I may have the services of "Doctor Merryman" free every hour of the day by
keeping our attention fixed on all the incredible riches we possess-riches exceeding by
far the fabled treasures of Ali Baba. Would you sell both your eyes for a billion dollars?
What would you take for your two legs? Your hands? Your hearing? Your children? Your
family? Add up your assets, and you will find that you won't sell what you have for all
the gold ever amassed by the Rockefellers, the Fords and the Morgans combined.
But do we appreciate all this? Ah, no. As Schopenhauer said: "We seldom think of what
we have but always of what we lack." Yes, the tendency to "seldom think of what we
have but always of what we lack" is the greatest tragedy on earth. It has probably
caused more misery than all the wars and diseases in history.
It caused John Palmer to turn "from a regular guy into an old grouch", and almost
wrecked his home. I know because he told me so.
Mr. Palmer lives at 30 19th Avenue, Paterson, New Jersey. "Shortly after I returned from
the Army," he said, "I started in business for myself. I worked hard day and night. Things
were going nicely. Then trouble started. I couldn't get parts and materials. I was afraid I
would have to give up my business. I worried so much that I changed from a regular guy
into an old grouch. I became so sour and cross that-well, I didn't know it then; but I now
realise that I came very near to losing my happy home. Then one day a young, disabled
veteran who works for me said: 'Johnny, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You take
on as if you were the only person in the world with troubles. Suppose you do have to
shut up shop for a while-so what? You can start up again when things get normal. You've
got a lot to be thankful for. Yet you are always growling. Boy, how I wish I were in your
shoes I Look at me. I've got only one arm, and half of my face is shot away, and yet I am
not complaining. If you don't stop your growling and grumbling, you will lose not only
your business, but also your health, your home, and your friends!'
"Those remarks stopped me dead in my tracks. They made me realise how well off I was.
I resolved then and there that I would change and be my old self again-and I did."
A friend of mine, Lucile Blake, had to tremble on the edge of tragedy before she
learned to be happy about what she had instead of worrying over what she lacked.
I met Lucile years ago, when we were both studying short-story writing in the Columbia
University School of Journalism. Nine years ago, she got the shock of her life. She was
living then in Tucson, Arizonia. She had-well, here is the story as she told it to me:
"I had been living in a whirl: studying the organ at the University of Arizona, conducting
a speech clinic in town, and teaching a class in musical appreciation at the Desert
Willow Ranch, where I was staying. I was going in for parties, dances, horseback rides
under the stars. One morning I collapsed. My heart! 'You will have to lie in bed for a
year of complete rest,' the doctor said. He didn't encourage me to believe I would ever
be strong again.
"In bed for a year! To be an invalid-perhaps to die! I was terror-stricken! Why did all this
have to happen to me? What had I done to deserve it? I wept and wailed. I was bitter
and rebellious. But I did go to bed as the doctor advised. A neighbour of mine, Mr.
Rudolf, an artist, said to me: 'You think now that spending a year in bed will be a
tragedy. But it won't be. You will have time to think and get acquainted with yourself.
You will make more spiritual growth in these next few months than you have made
during all your previous life.' I became calmer, and tried to develop a new sense of
I read books of inspiration. One day I heard a radio commentator say: 'You can express
only what is in your own consciousness.' I had heard words like these many times before,
but now they reached down inside me and took root. I resolved to think only the
thoughts I wanted to live by: thoughts of joy, happiness, health. I forced myself each
morning, as soon as I awoke, to go over all the things I had to be grateful for. No pain. A
lovely young daughter. My eyesight. My hearing. Lovely music on the radio. Time to
read. Good food. Good friends. I was so cheerful and had so many visitors that the
doctor put up a sign saying that only one visitor at a time would be allowed in my cabinand only at certain hours.
"Nine years have passed since then, and I now lead a full, active life. I am deeply
grateful now for that year I spent in bed. It was the most valuable and the happiest year
I spent in Arizona. The habit I formed then of counting my blessings each morning still
remains with me. It is one of my most precious possessions. I am ashamed to realise that
I never really learned to live until I feared I was going to die."
My dear Lucile Blake, you may not realise it, but you learned the same lesson that Dr.
Samuel Johnson learned two hundred years ago. "The habit of looking on the best side of
every event," said Dr. Johnson, "is worth more than a thousand pounds a year."
Those words were uttered, mind you, not by a professional optimist, but by a man who
had known anxiety, rags, and hunger for twenty years-and finally became one of the
most eminent writers of his generation and the most celebrated conversationalist of all
Logan Pearsall Smith packed a lot of wisdom into a few words when he said: "There are
two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it.
Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second."
Would you like to know how to make even dishwashing at the kitchen sink a thrilling
experience? If so, read an inspiring book of incredible courage by Borghild Dahl. It is
called I Wanted to See.
This book was written by a woman who was practically blind for half a century. "I had
only one eye," she writes, "and it was so covered with dense scars that I had to do all my
seeing through one small opening in the left of the eye. I could see a book only by
holding it up close to my face and by straining my one eye as hard as I could to the left."
But she refused to be pitied, refused to be considered "different". As a child, she
wanted to play hopscotch with other children, but she couldn't see the markings. So
after the other children had gone home, she got down on the ground and crawled along
with her eyes near to the marks. She memorised every bit of the ground where she and
her friends played and soon became an expert at running games. She did her reading at
home, holding a book of large print so close to her eyes that her eyelashes brushed the
pages. She earned two college degrees: an A B. from the University of Minnesota and a
Master of Arts from Columbia University.
She started teaching in the tiny village of Twin Valley, Minnesota, and rose until she
became professor of journalism and literature at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South
Dakota. She taught there for thirteen years, lecturing before women's clubs and giving
radio talks about books and authors. "In the back of my mind," she writes, "there had
always lurked a fear of total blindness. In order to overcome this, I had adopted a
cheerful, almost hilarious, attitude towards life."
Then in 1943, when she was fifty-two years old, a miracle happened: an operation at
the famous Mayo Clinic. She could now see forty times as well as she had ever been able
to see before.
A new and exciting world of loveliness opened before her. She now found it thrilling
even to wash dishes in the kitchen sink. "I begin to play with the white fluffy suds in the
dish-pan," she writes. "I dip my hands into them and I pick up a ball of tiny soap
bubbles. I hold them up against the light, and in each of them I can see the brilliant
colours of a miniature rainbow."
As she looked through the window above the kitchen sink, she saw "the flapping greyblack wings of the sparrows flying through the thick, falling snow."
She found such ecstasy looking at the soap bubbles and sparrows that she closed her
book with these words: " 'Dear Lord,' I whisper, 'Our Father in Heaven, I thank Thee. I
thank Thee.' "
Imagine thanking God because you can wash dishes and see rainbows in bubbles and
sparrows flying through the snow 1
You and I ought to be ashamed of ourselves. All the days of our years we have been
living in a fairyland of beauty, but we have been too blind to see, too satiated to enjoy.
If we want to stop worrying and start living. Rule 4 is:
Count your blessings-not your troubles!  

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