Note: I wrote this post nearly ten years ago, and it still rings true to me, and I hope to you. I’ve added two or three lines that seem even more relevant today.
Louis Armstrong fascinates me as an icon as well as an artist. In my admiration and awe, I can’t become him — which is fine, we were all meant to be ourselves — but I have been silently studying the man as well as the recordings.
And this is the post I’ve wanted to write about him as a spiritual ideal of how to live in the world.
Live your life as if it mattered: it’s the only one you’re getting.
Pay attention to other people. If you ignore them, you will be alone someday.
Know your particular talents but wear them lightly: they will speak for themselves.
Be sure to floss your teeth.
Give everyone else a chance to solo. They’ll be happier and it will be easier on you. You don’t have to be the whole show even if your name is on the marquee.
Be kind to those who are struggling to reach their fullest potential, but acccept no mediocrity. A B natural will never be a B flat, no matter how hard someone tries to make it so.
Spread joy. Be proud of the joy you spread. It is a rare gift to be happy and extend it to others.
Wash your hands. Eat some rye bread.
Smile and make other people smile, but don’t hide your feelings if they’re not joyous.
Actively seek out opportunities to be kind without looking for reciprocation.
Help out younger people whenever you can. Give things away.
You don’t have to take Swiss Kriss if you really don’t want to, but it has its own lesson. Get rid of your shit as soon as possible: don’t hang on to it.
Cruelty, selfishness, vindictiveness will bounce right back on you.
Life is not going to get easier as you age, but be wise about your limtations. Don’t try to hit 250 high Cs if you can’t do it any longer.
If someone tries to take advantage of you, don’t let it happen, but don’t make a career of being angry.
Be generous to people who haven’t yet understood generosity.
Never forget those people who helped and guided you. Tell everyone about your mentors and keep their memory alive.
Be grateful for the simple things — a delicious plate of red beans and rice or a good Western on TV — and let everyone know that you are thankful.
Love your wife / husband / partner with all your heart.
If it’s summer, buy the local kids ice-cream.
Get high when you feel like it, but don’t hurt yourself or anyone else in the process.
Find opportunities to laugh often. Tell good jokes, but realize that life itself is often a hilarious pageant. Embrace the profane as well as the sacred.
Understand that all people, whether the King of England or Black Benny, have a common essence.
Be a close observer of people, and observe yourself closely as well. Learn from yourself, and improve what you see.
Take risks when you know what you’re doing, and sometimes when you don’t. What could possibly go wrong?
Don’t forget to mess around when you’re doing the Charleston.
Work very hard at what you have chosen to do, but try — this is not easy! — to make your work and pleasure the same thing.
Teach by example, and let people hear the lead!
If you do some of these things with great joyous seriousness, even if you never play trumpet or sing, people will always be happy to see you, and when you die, people will say what a privilege it was to have lived in your century. People will warm their hands at your generous spirit.
May your happiness increase!