The most significant step a mind takes is that wherein it realizes that it can control its own operation; when it learns that it can command those things in itself commonly considered automatic.
And in nothing does this appear with such striking results to happiness as in the discovery of one’s power to manage his memory.
Most people think they remember what they remember, and that is all there is to it. But it is possible to make memory a servant, and restrain its mastery.
In Italy a rare motto was found by Hazlitt upon a sun-dial: Horas non numero nisi serenas—“I mark only the shining hours.”
The man whose increase of contentment is most assured, as he grows older, is the one who has discovered how to enjoy his past.
To many of us the past is always sad. We turn from it with impatience. “Man never is, but always to be, blest.” Naturally this habit of mind sees in the ever-shortening future nothing but tragedy. Accept, then, these hints on how to handle your past.
First, whatever it is, has been; it has brought you here. Your condition may not be all your impudent claims on the universe demand, but it might be worse. Better men than you are in jail, are stricken with unceasing pain. Better men than you have been hanged.
Out of the worst experiences you have had you may reap satisfaction. The dangers, sicknesses, accidents, and losses, one who understands the art of living finds in the recalling of even these a certain thankfulness. Is there not pleasure in recounting your narrow escape?
You have had your pangs and pains; but the wise man knows that out of these have come his richest crops of understanding. Life has its stripes; but they are its healing.
The past is largely made by the present. If you are now soured and disappointed you are quite hopeless, for your diseased memory will go over your past and pick out from it only miserable things. But if you have adjusted yourself, if with a courageous heart you are trying to make the best of conditions as they are, your memory will aid you, and bring you stores of happy incidents.
Your past is the strongest asset of your present judgment. It is your best teacher. Only from it do you learn whatever shrewdness you have in dealing with events.
Learn to forgive yourself, not in folly, but in a sane charity. The things you did wrong, the failures and mistakes, consider them as part of that tutelage of destiny that goes toward your present equipment.
What has happened to you has happened to all men. The question is, will you cull from it flowers or thorns?
“Everything considered,” says Renan, “there are few situations in the vast field of existence where the balance of debt and credit does not leave a little surplus of happiness.”
We have crossed the years. We are here. We have escaped what perils! We have landed with what residue of wisdom and of hope!