Inspirational quotes/essays/poems - Got any good ones, Metafilter?
December 5, 2011 6:48 PM   Subscribe

Inspirational quotes/essays/poems/pictures - Got any good ones?

Hi Mefites,

I want to make a personalised book for my sister as a gift, sort of a Scrapbook Of Happy. She's had a rough few years and so i'd like the focus of the book to be inspirational, something to cheer her up or provide strength when things are tough.

Do you have any good essays, quotes, song lyrics, pictures, poems, etc that might be a good fit? As well as 'Things are shite, they will get better!' style stuff, i'd love suggestions for things in the live in the moment/work to be happy/etc line. (She's very fond of those)

If any were particularly geared towards the relationship between sisters, that would also be fantastic.

All suggestions very welcomed, whether they be common, obscure, shallow or profound.
(Alternately, links to any particularly ridiculous cat photos. Who isn't cheered by those?)
posted by pseudonymph to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Goethe's Gefunden has gotten me through some really rough patches.
posted by Tchad at 6:51 PM on December 5, 2011

Pinterest should have tons of ideas. You just have to wade through everything else.
posted by raisingsand at 6:56 PM on December 5, 2011

"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."

--GK Chesterton
posted by Danf at 7:06 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Courtesy of Thomas Dekker, this is what I read to myself whenever I feel like shit:

To awaken each morning with a smile brightening my face
To greet the day with reverence for the opportunities it contains
To approach my work with a clean mind
To hold ever before me, even in the doing of little things, the ultimate purpose toward which I am working
To meet men and women with laughter on my lips and love in my heart
To be gentle, kind, and courteous through all the hours
To approach the night with weariness that ever woos sleep and the joy that comes from work well done
This is how I desire to waste wisely my days.
posted by Perthuz at 7:07 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have this Shel Silverstein poem taped to my desk at work:

“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me ... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
posted by WaspEnterprises at 7:40 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

One of my favorite lines, from one of Antonio Machado's poems:

caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

traveler, there is no path.
the path is made by walking.
posted by raztaj at 7:53 PM on December 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Adam Zagajewksi's Try to praise the mutilated world is not exactly happy, but totally gorgeous and speaks exactly of that sentiment.
posted by elizeh at 8:04 PM on December 5, 2011

Not all exactly inspirational, but maybe anti-regret? Anyway, here're some poems.

Dorianne Laux

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don't regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You've walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You've traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don't bother remembering
any of it. Let's stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

Wild Geese
Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
       love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild gees, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

To See If Something Comes Next
Jack Gilbert

There is nothing here at the top of the valley.
Sky and morning, silence and the dry smell
of heavy sunlight on the stone everywhere.
Goats occasionally, and the sound of roosters
in the bright heat where he lives with the dead
woman and purity. Trying to see if something
comes next. Wondering whether he has stalled.
Maybe, he thinks, it is like the Noh: whenever
the script says danses, whatever the actor does next
is a dance. If he stands still, he is dancing.
posted by Vibrissa at 8:18 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Aw, heck, have another one. It might not exactly fit your theme, but it does kinda feature the overcoming of adversity.

The History of One Tough Motherfucker
Charles Bukowski

he came to the door one night wet thin beaten and
a white cross-eyed tailless cat
I took him in and fed him and he stayed
grew to trust me until a friend drove up the driveway
and ran him over
I took what was left to a vet who said,"not much
chance...give him these pills...his backbone
is crushed, but is was crushed before and somehow
mended, if he lives he'll never walk, look at
these x-rays, he's been shot, look here, the pellets
are still there...also, he once had a tail, somebody
cut it off..."
I took the cat back, it was a hot summer, one of the
hottest in decades, I put him on the bathroom
floor, gave him water and pills, he wouldn't eat, he
wouldn't touch the water, I dipped my finger into it
and wet his mouth and I talked to him, I didn't go any-
where, I put in a lot of bathroom time and talked to
him and gently touched him and he looked back at
me with those pale blue crossed eyes and as the days went
by he made his first move
dragging himself forward by his front legs
(the rear ones wouldn't work)
he made it to the litter box
crawled over and in,
it was like the trumpet of possible victory
blowing in that bathroom and into the city, I
related to that cat-I'd had it bad, not that
bad but bad enough
one morning he got up, stood up, fell back down and
just looked at me.
"you can make it," I said to him.
he kept trying, getting up falling down, finally
he walked a few steps, he was like a drunk, the
rear legs just didn't want to do it and he fell again, rested,
then got up.
you know the rest: now he's better than ever, cross-eyed
almost toothless, but the grace is back, and that look in
his eyes never left...
and now sometimes I'm interviewed, they want to hear about
life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed,
shot, runover de-tailed cat and I say,"look, look
at this!"
but they don't understand, they say something like,"you
say you've been influenced by Celine?"
"no," I hold the cat up,"by what happens, by
things like this, by this, by this!"
I shake the cat, hold him up in
the smoky and drunken light, he's relaxed he knows...
it's then that the interviews end
although I am proud sometimes when I see the pictures
later and there I am and there is the cat and we are photo-
graphed together.
he too knows it's bullshit but that somehow it all helps.
posted by Vibrissa at 8:33 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I second the idea of looking on pintrest. Tons of inspirational quotes/presentations there to spark your creativity. I love and collect inspirational quotes. So here are a few of my favs along these lines:

"There is no such thing in anyone's life as an unimportant day."
— Alexander Woollcott

"The purpose of life is to matter — to count, to stand for something, to have it make some difference that we lived at all."
— Leo Rosten

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all."
— Helen Keller

"No man is a failure who is enjoying life."
— William Feather

"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life — and that is why I succeed."
— Michael Jordan

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."
— Winston Churchill

"Anyone can give up, it's the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength."
(— Unknown?)

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

"It is never too late to be what you might have been."
— George Eliot

"Never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite, and never outstay your welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it."
— From “The Beach”

"Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well."
— Josh Billings

"You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you."
— Mary Tyler Moore

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
— Marianne Williamson

"Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it."
— Lou Holtz

"Most of us miss out on life's big prizes. The Pulitzer. The Nobel. Oscars. Tonys. Emmys. But we're all eligible for life's small pleasures. A pat on the back. A kiss behind the ear. A four-pound bass. A full moon. An empty parking space. A crackling fire. A great meal. A glorious sunset. Hot soup. Cold beer. Don't fret about copping life's grand awards. Enjoy its tiny delights. There are plenty for all of us."
— United Technologies Corporation

"The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn."
— Laurence J. Peter

"All your life you are told the things you cannot do. All your life they will say you’re not good enough or strong enough or talented enough. They will say you’re the wrong height or the wrong weight or the wrong type to play this or be this or achieve this. THEY WILL TELL YOU NO, a thousand times no, until all the no’s become meaningless. All your life they will tell you no, quite firmly and very quickly. AND YOU WILL TELL THEM YES."
— Nike Ad

"Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures. "
— H. Jackson Brown

"Every day is a new beginning. Treat it that way. Stay away from what might have been, and look at what can be."
— Marsha Petrie Sue

"I will act as if what I do makes a difference."
— William James

"Wars and elections are both too big and too small to matter in the long run. The daily work that goes on. It adds up."
— Barbara Kingsolver, author

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
— Gil Bailie

"Undertake something that is difficult; it will do you good. Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow."
— Ronald Osborn

"All life is an experiment."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." — Maya Angelou

"Strive for excellence, not perfection."
— H. Jackson Brown Jr.

"My life is my message."
— Mohandas Gandhi

"Life is the art of drawing without an eraser."
— John W. Gardner

"The beginning is always today."
— Mary Wollstonecraft

"I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go. Things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they go right. You believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart, so that better things can fall together."
— Marylin Monroe

"Ability is a poor man's wealth."
— John Wooden

"If I wasn't doing this, I have no idea what I'd be doing."
— Nicholas Sparks

"You can never plan the future by the past."
— Edmund Burke

"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf."
— Jon Kabat Zinn

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
— Dr. Seuss


AND finally, a great poem along these lines. I love the last stanza and have it posted by desk at work for days when I'm stressed or unhappy.

By Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
posted by ilikemethisway at 8:47 PM on December 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

These are all amazing - thank you, guys. (Though for anyone just coming in, the more the merrier, so please feel free to keep going!)

And just to address these:
'Not all exactly inspirational, but maybe anti-regret?'
'It might not exactly fit your theme, but it does kinda feature the overcoming of adversity.'
'...not exactly happy, but totally gorgeous and speaks exactly of that sentiment.'

I'm loving all of them, so by all means - expand my theme to cover them. I had trouble articulating it myself but all of these ideas are definitely things i'd love to include.

You guys, I am going to earn so many Sister Points here. I promise to spend them on hiring minions to favourite you all relentlessly.
posted by pseudonymph at 9:52 PM on December 5, 2011

Courage Wolf
posted by victory_laser at 2:15 AM on December 6, 2011

Invictus (William Henley)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
posted by carlypennylane at 5:42 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I find this very comforting - life goes on.

Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
posted by Laura_J at 1:09 PM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, ''If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.''

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ''If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.''

- Kurt Vonnegut

Freedom from purpose can be liberating. Indeed it is at times when we have no external purpose or aim or goal that we can be happiest: when we watch waves on the sea-shore, when we lie in tall grass, when we make love, when we dance. It is only when we no longer worry about purpose, only when we are content simply to exist along with other existences, that we can find real peace.

- Paul Harrison

"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart...Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you as your shadow, unshakable."
The Buddha, in the Dhammapada

"We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival." - Winston Churchill

"Yesterday is ashes; tomorrow wood. Only today does the fire burn brightly."

- Old Inuit saying

Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.

- Hafiz of Persia

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

- Rumi
posted by LauraJ at 3:44 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have tons of these.

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.

- Ernest Hemingway

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

- Theodore Roosevelt

Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words ‘make’ and ‘stay’ become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.

-Tom Robbins

My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I’m happy. I can’t figure it out. What am I doing right?

-Charles M. Schultz


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you carefully counted and saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know kindness as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then it goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

- Naomi Shihab Nye

None of this is important in itself, but I feel somewhere that it has a lot to do with why I have always felt separate, why I have always felt unable to join in, to let go, to become part of the tribe, why I have always sniped or joked from the sidelines, why I have never, ever, lost my overwhelmingly self-conscious self-consciousness.

It's not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing - they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.

- Stephen Fry

Hell, I am young. I am free. My teeth are clean. The sun shines. To hell with everything else.

— Stephen Fry

Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring and because it has fresh peaches in it.

-Alice Walker

"I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death"

-Nelson Mandela

I am not a courageous person by nature. I have simply discovered that, at certain key moments in this life, you must find courage in yourself, in order to move forward and live. It is like a muscle and it must be exercised, first a little, and then more and more. All the really exciting things possible during the course of a lifetime require a little more courage than we currently have. A deep breath and a leap.

- John Patrick Shanley

“Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

This is how it works. I love the people in my life, and I do for my friends whatever they need me to do for them, again and again, as many times as is necessary. For example, in your case you always forgot who you are and how much you’re loved. So what I do for you as your friend is remind you who you are and tell you how much I love you. And this isn’t any kind of burden for me, because I love who you are very much. Every time I remind you, I get to remember with you, which is my pleasure.

- James Lecesne

But who can say what's best? That's why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.

- Haruki Murakami

Does it break my heart, of course, every moment of every day, into more pieces than my heart was made of, I never thought of myself as quiet, much less silent, I never thought about things at all, everything changed, the distance that wedged itself between me and my happiness wasn’t the world, it wasn’t the bombs and burning buildings, it was me, my thinking, the cancer of never letting go, is ignorance bliss, I don’t know, but it’s painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me? I think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.

- Jonathan Safran Foer

At times the world can seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe us when we say there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough. And what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events, may, in fact, be the first steps of a journey.

- Violet Baudelaire (Lemony Snicket)
posted by triggerfinger at 7:27 PM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thanks again, guys! Just as an update - I ended up using all of these, thus I marked all of them best answer. Yep, even Courage Wolf. (That was actually inspired, I didn't even think of using memes. She's completely unfamiliar with all of those, so I threw in a few Socially Awkward Penguins for levity.

Skipped the Insanity Wolf, though.)

So, here's hoping she loves it - I have a strong suspicion she will.
posted by pseudonymph at 12:34 AM on December 11, 2011

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