Ben Franklin’s Advice for a Better New Year

Many of us still write up New Years’ Resolutions. Lose those extra ten pounds, read the Bible more, remember people’s names better. A friend told me, “I used to have a problem with remembering names until I took the Dale Carmichael course.”

One American who has been a font of timeless and timely advice was founding father extraordinaire Ben Franklin. He said, “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”

Franklin was a busy man, who served in both the Continental Congress that produced the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention that produced our nation’s governing document. He also founded one of the nation’s earliest anti-slavery societies.

Franklin wrote a classic book called, Poor Richard’s Almanack (1732), which is a series of pithy statements. Consider some of his thoughts in terms of trying to develop better habits for the New Year.

On laziness versus productivity, you can see the old New England Puritan influence here. He said,

  • “There are lazy minds as well as lazy bodies.”
  • “Little Strokes, Fell great Oaks.”
  • “Fear to do ill, and you need fear naught else. O Lazy bones!”
  • “You may delay, but time will not.”
  • “Lost time is never found again.”
  • “All things are easy to industry, all things difficult to sloth.”

Here’s a rather famous one: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

He also noted, “The honest man takes pains, and then enjoys pleasures; the knave takes pleasure, and then suffers pains,” and “One today is worth two tomorrows.”

Surely, applying some of these principles in our daily lives would lead to greater productivity. As Paul said in Ephesians, we should “redeem the time for the days are evil.”

Ben Franklin also had good advice against greed. He said:

  • “Avarice and happiness never saw each other; how then should they become acquainted?”
  • “Who is rich? He that rejoices in his Portion.”
  • “Content[ment] makes poor men rich; Discontent makes rich Men poor.”
  • “He does not possess wealth, it possesses him.”

There’s an underlying truth in these. You could have riches untold, but if you’re ungrateful, it’s worse than being impoverished.

Franklin went on to say:

  • “If man could have half his wishes, he would double his troubles.”
  • “Wish a miser long life, and you wish him no good.”
  • “He that pursues two hares at once, does not catch one and lets the other go.”
  • “When will the miser’s chest be full enough?”
  • “If your riches are yours, why don’t you take them with you to the other world?”
  • “What is more valuable than gold? Diamonds. Than diamonds? Virtue.”
  • “He that’s content hath enough. He that complains hath too much.”

Much of this reminds me of Jesus’ warning to “beware of covetousness,” one of the many Biblical prohibitions against greed and envy.

Ben Franklin was not an orthodox Christian. But nor was he an atheist. He played a pivotal role as a publisher to help spread the message of George Whitefield’s evangelistic crusade up and down the Atlantic coast. This was pivotal to the Great Awakening, which was pivotal to our independence.

Furthermore, Franklin remonstrated with Thomas Paine for writing his anti-Christian screed, Age of Reason. And, during the Constitutional Convention, when the delegates got bogged down and couldn’t agree on specifics, Franklin rose up and gave an important speech, suggesting that the new nation look to God for His help and to pray about this matter. It is reported that acting on his suggestion broke the impasse.

Franklin also had some good advice on choosing humility over pride:

  • “People who are wrapped in themselves make small packages.”
  • “The first degree of folly, is to conceit one’s self wise; the second to profess it; the third to despise counsel.”
  • “Despair ruins some, presumption many.”
  • “He that falls in love with himself, will have no rivals.”
  • “The proud hate pride—in others.”

I love what Franklin said about marriage—slightly paraphrased: Before you get married, keep your eyes wide open. After you get married, keep them half closed. And he also warned, “He that lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.”

Furthermore, he encouraged writers, when he noted—again, slightly paraphrased: If you would not be forgotten, when you’re long dead and rotten, then write something worth the reading or do something worth the writing.

Finally, he had some good suggestions that apply to weight control—a perpetual goal for those of us who make New Years’ Resolutions: “Eat to live; live not to eat.”

Even if we applied just one of these principles from Dr. Franklin in 2022, it would tend to make us more “healthy, wealthy, and wise” in the new year.

 

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