Living Deliberately by Henry David Thoreau

According to Henry David Thoreau, the worst thing that can happen to people is realizing on their deathbed that they didn't fully live. There's still time for many of us, though. You must work on living deliberately and existing with all of your soul, intention, freedom, and simplicity.
Living Deliberately by Henry David Thoreau
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Henry David Thoreau says that people must really work on living deliberately. But don’t we already? No, we don’t. This is because living isn’t only about existing, breathing, or following a routine that blurs passions. One that shadows motivation and even the creative impulse or the principle of freedom. This naturalist, philosopher, ecologist, and defender of civil disobedience left behind a reflection on this very subject.

He did so in his well-known work Walden, a cult book for many and a compendium of empty idealism for others. Be that as it may, those words with which he encouraged the world to differentiate the important from the trivial rarely acquire greater meaning. He said that people are immersed in a kind of continuous despair and they must put an end to it.

Returning to the human essence, being minimalistic, and focusing the gaze on the present moment are ways in which one can remove, layer by layer, part of the suffering that society placed on every one of us. Acting in a deliberate manner is being, existing, and above all, daring to make better decisions.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”

-Henry David Thoreau-

What’s deliberate living?

“All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.”

Walden Pond is in a small Massachusetts nature preserve. Its unique serene beauty is one of the reasons why many tourists visit it frequently. Also, because Henry David Thoreau retired there in the mid-19th century. This philosopher graduated from Harvard and many consider him to be one of the main exponents of transcendentalism and idealism. In fact, he always sought to understand nature and its relationship to the human condition.

Furthermore, he spent half his life defying the law in many areas of his life. In fact, he returned to his hometown and worked in his family’s pencil factory as a consequence. This is because he didn’t conform to the norms of society and advocated a form of ascetic individualism. He spoke about it in many of his lectures. He pointed out that people are already rich when they come into the world. Thus, the only way to realize it is by giving up much of what you have.

He followed suit and detached from almost everything and then fled to the forest. He kind of did it as a challenge after William Ellery Channing, a puritanical shepherd, pointed out that the only way to save his soul was to devour himself in the solitude of a forest and build a hut. To his surprise, he visited his friend in the forest on July 4, 1845.

His goal was none other than to live deliberately, something he recorded in his now-famous book, Walden. Today’s article will analyze some of his best-known ideas.

Less materialism and more being

This is one of the most significant reflections in Thoreau’s philosophy. It’s true that reading it is a contradiction. Mainly because others often point out that you’re your actions. Think about it though, you must choose well what you dedicate your existence to if you wish to live deliberately.

Henry David Thoreau advocated renouncing materialism and orienting yourself towards a type of life that allows you to be and feel.

Living deliberately and enjoying the here and now

“In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.”

In 1845, the Western world still knew nothing about mindfulness, meditation, or any other philosophy that directed attention to the present moment. However, Thoreau already invited you to focus your intention and interest in the here and now in his book Walden. Few things matter as much as what’s happening in this very moment in the midst of nature.

This is because what’s truly transcendent is what you do now in order to preserve balance, calm, and perfection. The past and the future are irrelevant in the forest.

Differentiating between what’s superficial and what’s essential

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.”

Every meaningful life starts from simplicity, from knowing how to differentiate the superficial from the essential, the important from the relative. Thus, and although you might find it hard to believe, this is an eternally pending subject. You continue to burden yourself through excessive worries and a disproportionate amount of dimensions that aren’t useful to you.

Thus, in order to be able to reduce all this excess baggage, you must allow yourself to leave it behind and enjoy your existence. Experience the present moment more fully.

A person in the woods.

Living deliberately is about being passionate and remembering that you don’t know everything

“I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.”

Passion and mystery – can there be anything more exciting when it comes to living deliberately? Not really, but the problem is that people don’t allow themselves to feel those emotional realities most of the time. Nothing offers greater meaning and purpose than making passion important. This is because this is the only way you’ll enjoy everything that existence has to offer.

There’s another decisive characteristic. You must be humble enough to realize that you don’t know everything; that living is learning every day. This is because only by doing so, by being open to discovery and mystery, will you enjoy well-being and satisfaction.

Few books are such a direct and evocative invitation to freedom and the kind of happiness that comes from simplicity, like Walden. It’s perhaps the first and most beautiful work on self-help written by a philosopher who practiced social disobedience but also left behind valuable lessons in finding existential meaning.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Maynard, W. Barksdale (2005) Walden Pond: A History. Oxford University Press.
  • Thoreau, David (2012) Walden. Madrid: Tregal
  • Richardson, Robert; Moser, Barry (1986). Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind. University of California Press

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.