Gordon Livingston


Gordon Livingston was a psychiatrist and author who wrote several books on being human. This transcription is a conversation related to his book, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now. It’s hosted by Dan Rodricks on WYPR.

Livingston passed away in March of 2016. He had some incredible life experiences, and listening to him or reading his books makes you feel smarter than you already are. You can find the audio of the conversation here and check out some great notes on this book from Derek Sivers here.

Pursuit of Happiness 7:00

It’s not taught. I think it should be taught. A subject in all high schools, the pursuit of happiness. People think about personality characteristics. What works for relationships, what doesn’t work.

What virtues do we want to see in the people around us.

I think we can only do a little amount of planning. We can assume we want to pursue certain professions, and that changes.

But being able to evaluate other people, and being able to be honest with ourselves, where our strengths and weakness lie, is an essential human characteristic.

And we’re not very good at it.


3 Components of Happiness 10:14

I think there are 3 components of happiness. There is what we’re doing. What we’re doing in the way of work, meaningful.

Someone to love. And something to look forward to.

If you have those 3 things, it’s really hard to be unhappy. So in the lives of unhappy people, one or more of those is commonly missing.


Only Bad Things Happen Quickly 19:26

The fact is, change is a slow process. That’s why I point out, it’s the bad things in life that happen quickly.

The awful diagnosis from your doctor or an accident of some sort.

The things that are good in life, that is forming relationships, education, succeeding in our jobs - all those things take time.

And we’re an impatient culture. People often find that they don’t really want to put in the time and effort to make fundamental changes in their lives.


Person that Cares the Least 32:16

Anyone who works with a person whose marriage is in trouble, will usually discover that one half of the couple is more distressed than the other.

And the person who is least distressed is the one who is in control of the relationship.

This is something I do point out when I see it. Because the person who cares the most is often at whit’s end about what to do. They’re the ones who are pushing for the marriage counseling and they’re the ones invested in the relationship.

And if the other person is not, the person who really cares feels powerless.


Forgiveness 36:28

The definition of forgiveness is giving up a grievance that we’re entitled to. That’s not an easy thing to do.

And sometimes we can’t imagine doing it until the moment that we do it. But it’s essential to living any sort of happy life.

Because we’re going to be constantly confronted with things that are unsatisfying to us or mistakes often that we’ve made.

So with the all the forms of forgiveness, I think self-forgiveness is in some ways the most difficult, but the most essential.

Yes, Gordon. It’s essential.


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