William James (1842-1910)

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”

“Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible.”

“If you care enough for a result, you will most certainly attain it.”

“Man can alter his life by altering his thinking.”

“There is but one cause of human failure. And that is man’s lack of faith in his true self.”

“I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.”

“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.”

“The sovereign cure for worry is prayer.”

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

“New habits can be launched . . . on condition of there being new stimuli and new excitements.”

“Action may not bring happiness but there is no happiness without action.”

“If you believe that feeling bad or worrying long enough will change a past or future event, then you are residing on another planet with a different reality system.”

“We don’t laugh because we’re happy — we’re happy because we laugh.”

“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult undertaking which, more than anything else, will determine its successful outcome.”

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

“These then are my last words to you. Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.”

“To change one’s life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly.”

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

“Begin to be now what you will be hereafter.”

“We never fully grasp the import of any true statement until we have a clear notion of what the opposite untrue statement would be.”

“We have to live today by what truth we can get today and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood.”

“Everybody should do at least two things each day that he hates to do, just for practice.”

“Belief creates the actual fact.”

“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.”

“The aim of a college education is to teach you to know a good man when you see one.”

“Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power”

“The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”

“Wisdom is learning what to overlook.”

“To study the abnormal is the best way of understanding the normal.”

“Truth is what works.”

“In the dim background of mind we know what we ought to be doing but somehow we cannot start.”

“The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.”

“Many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

“Let everything you do be done as if it makes a difference.”

“Genius … means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.”

“Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state.”

“The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.”

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.”

“Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact”

“We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never-so-little scar.”

“The minute a man ceases to grow, no matter what his years, that minute he begins to be old.”

“The emotions aren’t always immediately subject to reason, but they are always immediately subject to action”

“Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”

“No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one has not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may retain entirely unaffected for the better.”

“Why should we think upon things that are lovely? Because thinking determines life. It is a common habit to blame life upon the environment. Environment modifies life but does not govern life. The soul is stronger than its surroundings.”

“Ninety-nine hundredths or, possibly, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths of our activity is purely automatic and habitual, from our rising in the morning to our lying down each night.”

“It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all.”

“He who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he had failed.”

“Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make very small use of their possible consciousness, and of their soul’s resources in general, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger.”

“The essence of genius is to know what to overlook.”

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”

“Emotional occasions, especially violent ones, are extremely potent in precipitating mental rearrangements. The sudden and explosive ways in which love, jealousy, guilt, fear, remorse, or anger can seize upon one are known to everybody. . . . And emotions that come in this explosive way seldom leave things as they found them.”

“Give up the feeling of responsibility, let go your hold, resign the care of your destiny to higher powers, be genuinely indifferent as to what becomes of it all and you will find not only that you gain a perfect inward relief, but often also, in addition, the particular goods you sincerely thought you were renouncing.”

“Our belief at the beginning of a doubtful undertaking is the one thing that assures the successful outcome of any venture”

“The ideas gained by men before they are twenty-five are practically the only ideas they shall have in their lives.”

“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”

“If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.”

“Let anyone try, I will not say to arrest, but to notice or to attend to, the present moment of time. One of the most baffling experiences occurs. Where is it, this present? It has melted in our grasp, fled ere we could touch it, gone in the instant of becoming.”

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can change his life by changing his attitude of mind.”

“Genius, in truth, means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.”

“Truths emerge from facts, but they dip forward into facts again and add to them; which facts again create or reveal new truth (the word is indifferent) and so on indefinitely. The ‘facts’ themselves meanwhile are not true. They simply are. Truth is the function of the beliefs that start and terminate among them.”

“Do every day or two something for no other reason than you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test.”

“Compared to what we ought to be, we are half awake.”

“Religious awe is the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight, or in a mountain gorge”

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

“First, you know, a new theory is attacked as absurd; then it is admitted to be true, but obvious and insignificant; finally it is seen to be so important that its adversaries claim that they themselves discovered it.”

“It is true that so far as wealth gives time for ideal ends and exercise to ideal energies, wealth is better than poverty and ought to be chosen. But wealth does this in only a portion of the actual cases. Elsewhere the desire to gain wealth and the fear to lose it are our chief breeders of cowardice and propagators of corruption. There must be thousands of conjunctures in which a wealth-bound man must be a slave, whilst a man for whom poverty has no terrors becomes a freeman.”

“When once a decision is reached and execution is the order of the day, dismiss absolutely all responsibility and care about the outcome.”

“In the practical use of our intellect, forgetting is as important as remembering.”

“Tell him to live by yes and no — yes to everything good, no to everything bad.”

“The prevalent fear of poverty among the educated classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers.”

“The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour.”

“The union of the mathematician with the poet, fervor with measure, passion with correctness, this surely is the ideal”

“A cowboy is a man with guts and a horse.”

“Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us.”

“It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true.”

“Despair lames most people, but it wakes others fully up.”

“The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives”

“I have often thought the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it comes upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: ”This is the real me!”.”

“As there is no worse lie than a truth misunderstood by those who hear it, so reasonable arguments, challenges to magnanimity, and appeals to sympathy or justice, are folly when we are dealing with human crocodiles and boa-constrictors.”

“Just for today I will exercise my soul in three ways: I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. I will do at least two things I don’t want to do.”

“To my way of thinking there’s something wrong, or missing, with any person who hasn’t got a soft spot in their hearts for an animal of some kind.”

“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers.”

“Let anyone try to cut a thought across the middle and get a look at its section, and he will see how difficult the introspective observation. . . . is. The rush of the thought is always so headlong that it almost always brings us up at the conclusion before we can arrest it. [Introspective analysis] is in fact like seizing a spinning top to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks.”

“All of us, in the flow of feeling we have pleased, want to do more to please.”

“We are doomed to cling to a life even while we find it unendurable.”

“In every concrete individual, there is a uniqueness that defies formulation. We can feel the touch of it and recognize its taste, so to speak, relishing or disliking, as the case may be, but we can give no ultimate account of it, and we have in the end simply to admire the Creator.”

“There is no more contemptible type of human character than that of the nerveless sentimentalist and dreamer who spends his life in a weltering sea of sensibility and emotion, but who never does a manly concrete deed.”

“We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition.”

“Every man who possibly can should force himself to a holiday of a full month in a year, whether he feels like taking it or not.”

“Success plus Self-esteem equals Pretensions.”

“Humanism . . . is not a single hypothesis or theorem, and it dwells on no new facts. It is rather a slow shifting in the philosophic perspective, making things appear as from a new centre of interest or point of sight.”

“Psychology is the Science of Mental Life, both of its phenomena and their conditions.”

“Religion is nothing if it be not the vital act by which the entire mind seeks to save itself by clinging to the principle from which it draws its life. This act is prayer, by which term I understand no vain exercise of words, no mere repetition of certain sacred formula, but the very movement itself of the soul, putting itself in a personal relation of contact with the mysterious power of which it feels the presence — it may be even before it has a name by which to call it.”

“Our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest, which co-mingle their roots in the darkness underground.”

“The university most worthy of rational admiration is that one in which your lonely thinker can feel himself lonely, most positively furthered, and most richly fed.”

“All natural goods perish. Riches take wings; fame is a breath; love is a cheat; youth and health and pleasure vanish.”

“Old age has the last word: the purely naturalistic look at life, however enthusiastically it may begin, is sure to end in sadness. . . . This sadness lies at the heart of every merely positivistic, agnostic, or naturalistic scheme of philosophy.”

“I don’t see how an epigram, being a bolt from the blue, with no introduction or cue, ever gets itself writ”

“The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.”

“For morality life is a war, and the service of the highest is a sort of cosmic patriotism which also calls for volunteers.”

“A rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those . . . truths were really there, would be an irrational rule.”

“One hearty laugh together will bring enemies into a closer communion of heart than hours spent on both sides in inward wrestling with the mental demon of uncharitable feeling.”

“We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant: the liberation of material attachments, the unbridled soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly — the more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape.”

“A new position of responsibility will usually show a man to be a far stronger creature than was supposed.”

“For life is evil. Two souls are in my breast; I see the better, and in the very act of seeing it I do the worse.”

“Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.”

“There is nothing so absurd that it cannot be believed as truth if repeated often enough.”

“The human individual lives usually far within his limits; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use. He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum. . . . it is only an inveterate habit — the habit of inferiority to our full self.”

“We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort. We postpone and postpone, until those smiling possibilities are dead.”

“Act in earnest and you will become earnest in all you do.”

“Much of what we call evil can often be converted into a bracing and tonic good by a simple change of the sufferer’s inner attitude from one of fear to one of fight”

“In business for yourself, not by yourself.”

“Knowledge about life is one thing; effective occupation of a place in life, with its dynamic currents passing through your being, is another.”

“Act the part and you will become the part.”

“This life is worth living, we can say, since it is what we make it.”

 “The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths.”

“Life is one long struggle between conclusions based on abstract ways of conceiving cases, and opposite conclusions prompted by our instinctive perception of them.”

“Religion is a monumental chapter in the history of human egotism”

“A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain.”

“Philosophy is at once the most sublime and the most trivial of human pursuits.”

“The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist”

“The world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck.”

“The most immutable barrier in nature is between one man’s thoughts and another’s.”

“When you have broken the reality into concepts you never can reconstruct it in its wholeness.”

“The path to cheerfulness is to sit cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.”

“Faith is one of the forces by which men live, and the total absence of it means collapse.”

“Experience has ways of boiling over, and making us correct our present formulas.”

“Our civilization is founded on the shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait till you arrive there yourself!”

“My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.”

“To be a real philosopher all that is necessary is to hate some one else’s type of thinking.”

“It is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”

“Each of us literally chooses, by his way of attending to things, what sort of universe he shall appear to himself to inhabit”

“No human being ever learns to live until he has awakened to the dormant powers within him”

“If a man’s good for nothing else, he can at least teach philosophy.”

“Men’s activities are occupied into ways — in grappling with external circumstances and in striving to set things at one in their own topsy-turvy mind.”

“With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved.”

“If merely ‘feeling good’ could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience.”

“The instinct of ownership is fundamental in man’s nature”

“Human beings are born into this little span of life of which the best thing is its friendship and intimacies, and soon their places will know them no more, and yet they leave their friendships and intimacies with no cultivation, to grow as they will”

“The art of becoming wise is the art of knowing what to overlook”

“It is well for the world that in most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has been set like plaster, and will never soften again.”

“Impulse without reason is not enough, and reason without impulse is a poor makeshift.”

“Few of us are not in some way infirm, or even diseased; and our very infirmities help us unexpectedly.”

“Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.”

“Only necessity understood, and bondage to the highest is identical with true freedom.”

“We have the right to believe at our own risk any hypothesis that is live enough to tempt our will.”

“If the ‘searching of our heart and reins’ be the purpose of this human drama, then what is sought seems to be what effort we can make. He who can make none is but a shadow; he who can make much is a hero.”

“A man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him.”

“Genius is the capacity for seeing relationships where lesser men see none.”

“Most men’s friendships are too inarticulate.”

“Objective evidence and certitude are doubtless very fine ideals to play with, but where on this moonlit and dream-visited planet are they found?”

“Life defies our phrases, it is infinitely continuous and subtle and shaded, whilst our verbal terms are discrete, rude and few.”

“What we need to discover in the social realm is the moral equivalent of war; something heroic that will speak to men as universally as war does, and yet will be compatible with their spiritual selves as war has proved itself to be incompatible.”

“Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

“The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”

“An act has no ethical quality whatever unless it be chosen out of several all equally possible.”

“How can the moribund old man reason back to himself the romance, the mystery, the imminence of great things with which our old earth tingled for him in the days when he was young and well?”

“Events are influenced by our very great desires.”

“A new idea is first condemned as ridiculous and then dismissed as trivial, until finally, it becomes what everybody knows.”

“Immortality is but a way of saying that the determination of expectancy is the essential factor of rationality.”

“True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot.”

“So far war has been the only force that can discipline a whole community.”

“Of all the beautiful truths pertaining to the soul
None is more gladdening or fruitful than to know
You can regenerate and make yourself what you will.”

“Success or failure depends more upon attitude than upon capacity successful men act as though they have accomplished or are enjoying something. Soon it becomes a reality. Act, look, feel successful, conduct yourself accordingly, and you will be amazed at the positive results.”

“Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. We are making use of only a small part of our mental and physical resources.”

“I will act as if what I do makes a difference.”

“If you want a trait, act as if you already have the trait.”

“What every genuine philosopher (every genuine man, in fact) craves most is praise — although the philosophers call it “recognition”!”

“To change one’s life: 1. Start immediately, 2. Do it flamboyantly, 3. No exceptions.”

“Where quality is the thing sought after, the thing of supreme quality is cheap, whatever the price one has to pay for it”

“Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us; our hour of triumph is what brings the void”

“An idea, to be suggestive, must come to the individual with the force of revelation.”

“Time itself comes in drops.”

“Philosophy is only a matter of passionate vision rather than of logic — logic only finding reasons for the vision afterwards.”

“The most general elements and workings of the mind are all that the teacher absolutely needs to be acquainted with for his purposes.”

“Truth in our ideas means their power to work.”

“Truth is essentially a relation between two things, an idea, on the one hand, and a reality outside of the idea, on the other.”

“Religion is either a dull habit or an acute fever.”

“Man needs a rule for his will, and will invent one if one be not given him.”

“Habit is the enormous flywheel of society, its most precious conservative agent.”

“I now perceive one immense omission in my psychology — the deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

“Publishers are demons, there’s no doubt about it.”

“Education is the organization of acquired habits of conduct and tendencies to behavior .”

“Let me repeat once more that a man’s vision is the great fact about him.”

“Geniuses are commonly believed to excel other men in their power of sustained attention. . . . But it is their genius making them attentive, not their attention making geniuses of them.”

“Man’s perfection would be the fulfillment of his end; and his end would be union with his Maker.”

“We are thinking beings, and we cannot exclude the intellect from participating in any of our functions.”

“We keep unaltered as much of our old knowledge, as many of our old prejudices and beliefs, as we can.”

“Truth happens to an idea.”

“I personally gave up the Absolute . . . I fully believe in taking moral holidays.”

“We are all ready to be savage in some cause. The difference between a good man and a bad one is the choice of the cause.”

“Smitten as we are with the vision of social righteousness, a God indifferent to everything but adulation, and full of partiality for his individual favorites, lacks an essential element of largeness.”

“Spiritual energy flows in and produces effects in the phenomenal world.”

“There can be no existence of evil as a force to the healthy-minded individual.”

“Man lives for science as well as bread.”

“We can act as if there were a God; feel as if we were free; consider Nature as if she were full of special designs; lay plans as if we were to be immortal; and we find then that these words do make a genuine difference in our moral life.”

“To give up pretensions is as blessed a relief as to get them gratified.”

“The ultimate test of what a truth means is the conduct it dictates or inspires.”

“The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief, and good, too, for definite, assignable reasons.”

“Each of us is in fact what he is almost exclusively by virtue of his imitativeness.”

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