Eleanor’s Eleven Keys to a More Fulfilling Life

Have you noticed how many books have a number in the title, like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People?  Or how many articles are enticingly entitled “The Top 5 Reasons We Fall Out of Love”?  We human beings love lists. Who wouldn’t be smitten with the idea that if I only do these seven or ten or fifteen things, my life will be better, my marriage will be stronger and my career will flourish? Of course, it is easier to read the ideas than to put in the hard work of executing them. And, of course, no list—even the most marvelous one—hits every area every time.

I recently read a book from decades ago, with a subtitle that still resonates today. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, one of America’s most admired women, wrote You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life only a few years before her death (decades after her husband’s presidency). The advice she gives holds up rather well, though I think she would be shocked to discover that by today’s standards she might very well be considered a hard-core conservative rather than an icon of the Democrat Party.

As so often happens when reading a book from a previous era (the book was published in 1960), one is reminded that assumptions we make and things we take for granted aren’t necessarily writ in stone. In last week’s Your Mother’s Guidance column, Rebecca Masinter wrote about a Scriptural lesson on the importance of each individual feeling needed. Mrs. Roosevelt wrote on the same topic, in a way that I think sounds surprising to the modern ear.

Mrs. Roosevelt writes,

“One reason why we sometimes find less delinquency proportionately among the poor (my emphasis) is that the children have a greater sense of being needed in the family. They have a sense of belonging, of shared responsibility, of being an essential—and necessary—part of a component whole.”

In our day, we are strongly propagandized that crime is an inevitable consequence of poverty. Yet, it seems that this is not a given.

I find it fascinating that the Public Works Administration was a keystone of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the lack of available work during the Depression. The concept reflects the truth that money earned uplifts workers, but money given too freely corrodes the recipients. Yet, its policy grandchildren of today are a proliferation of public assistance programs that actually discourage working. Programs since the 1960s have had the  unintended consequence (or some will argue, the very much intended consequence) of penalizing those who marry and work while struggling financially. Children not only don’t feel needed in order to help the family survive, but these programs undermine the idea of family itself. Reliance on government programs rather than family members treats husbands and fathers as unnecessary. The birth of children, in and of itself rather than the efforts and help of those children, triggers the flow of so-called government money.

Our children used to joke that homeschooling was another name for child labor as their many hours at home gave them plenty of time to wash dishes, put away groceries, cook and clean. The line between schooling and home was difficult to delineate as we doubled fractions in recipes, compared prices per ounce in the market and recited poems while sweeping. There was plenty of time for everything. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that our children are amazed that their father and I actually function without them since they have grown up and established homes of their own. I think that Eleanor Roosevelt would have understood.

29 thoughts on “Eleanor’s Eleven Keys to a More Fulfilling Life”

  1. Thank you Susan for sending God’s wisdom. The book was not returned to the library since 2014 ~ so it must be good reading.
    “What I have done is to live every experience to the utmost.” Trying to do this being the same age as Ms. Roosevelt when writing the book.

    1. I remember reading a story of the widowed Mrs. Roosevelt heading south to support the Black community. When people objected, worried about her safety, she assured them that she was armed. A very interesting woman.

  2. Great insight Susan. In my personal experience poverty can instill great values in the young – gratitude, hardwork, diligence, pride, deferred gratification, etc. I’m one of four raised in poverty. We all worked in our home and as soon as we were old enough to get jobs babysitting, delivering newspapers, stocking store shelves, etc. we did in order to be responsible for some of our own needs (or wants). My brother worked three jobs to buy his own bicycle and never looked back. He just sold his business (that he built from scratch) for millions!! We did not all attain such financial success but we all understood the value of working for what we needed. While I would not wish poverty on anyone, I do believe with all my heart that poverty is what drove my brother to extreme success and the rest of us to modest success and a desire to take care of our own needs rather than expecting governments to take care of us. I think it’s harder to raise your children with these values when you are wealthy – but you must teach your children these valuable lessons nonetheless! STOP buying them everything they ask for and let them experience the pride one feels from earning their own money and then spending it wisely. Keep up the good lessons Susan and Rabbi Daniel!

    1. Ellen, good for your family. We have seen the knowledge of a trust fund harm a number of people and we have also seen people who are well off instill a work ethic and pride of accomplishment in their children. It is one of the conundrums of life that we want to give our children health, ease, comfort etc., but getting too much too easily doesn’t serve them well.

  3. I always get a rich Insight from sings You, and the rabbi post. Now I will have to go out and find Eleanor Roosevelt book. I love how you clearly put forth principles that have vaguely been circling in my mind. You provide insight and wisdom and back it up scripturally.

    1. Cheri, the book is available, but I admit that I got my copy from the library. I was glad they had it. I feel that they keep on purging older books and replacing them with awful new ones – and some good new ones as well. Good books don’t have an expiration date.

      1. Speaking as a former librarian, books that do not circulate are prime targets for deaccessioning. Since both shelf space and funds are limited, older items tend to be pushed out in favor of the new. So, go borrow a stack of classics even if you do not read them! A current circulation history will not guarantee older items are kept, but it helps.

        1. Lyna, that is good advice. Are there other parameters? A friend wanted her children to do a report on the Industrial Revolution and was told by the local librarian that, “We don’t have books on subjects like that.” It seems that would be a rather important topic for people to be able to research and read about even if those books weren’t taken out as often as Fifty Shades of Grey.

          1. By ‘former’ I mean about 40 years ago, 2 years at a Middle School where I found that 30-60 kids and me was not a good fit. Best would be talk to the head of acquisitions to learn your local library’s standards. Or, if you find a librarian who is near retirement, they could explain how the library ‘really works’!

            The guidelines will vary greatly from library to library, depending on the resources, purpose, and philosophy of the specific institution. Academic research vs a local lending library, for example. (Three cheers for Interlibrary Loans!) A librarian at our local library told me that even a “Given in Memory of…” dedication plate will not guarantee an item is kept if it is deemed no longer needed or relevant. Physical condition matters, too.

            [“Nothing on the Industrial Revolution”!?! I hope she went to the catalog and was able to prove that so-called “librarian” very wrong! “If we don’t have what you need, I’ll help you get it” would be my expected response.]

          2. Lyna, thanks for following up. And, no, the librarian basically shrugged her shoulders as if surprised that anyone would want to study such an esoteric subject! I’m sure the mom did go the the catalog – and to second-hand book sources.

  4. Just thank you
    For being a source of truth
    Its sad we cant trust the daily news anymore
    Thanks again
    Love you guys

    1. Rita, you don’t know how much it means to us to hear from you and others. It helps us picture individuals as we write.

  5. Thank you Susan ~ always appreciate your insight. Eleanor`s book will be fresh reading for me. Meditating daily on the Bible’s Proverbs gives me wise guidance.
    A good name, Rabbi Lapin, is to be more desired than great wealth. Proverbs 22:1
    Shabbat Shalom

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Right, Esther,
      And that verse both explains and is validated by the role of brands in commerce. People pay a little more for a favored brand with a good name than for a generic commoditized product. Wealth doesn’t produce a good name. But a good name (or a respected brand) does produce wealth.

  6. Susan would love to read tips with workload at small business setups without children to help around as they have established their own homes.
    In such times would it wise to continue the business or hang out boots towards a ministry , what is your advice

    1. What an interesting question, Rita. Maybe write it up with a few more details for an ‘Ask the Rabbi’ question?

    1. I would recommend reading this book with teens – some of it is great advice and some is good for discussion. Thanks, Kristin.

  7. Goodness, what a generous time to live! 🙂 We get to advise others with our successful tips!

    For so long, I have thought of the connection between the lack of gratitude for welfare benefits (food, shelter and clothing) and those social workers earning their incomes to sign off on monetary distributions to the so-called ‘poor.’ I once did a research paper on the reason behind a California program and it was created to ensure a ‘temporary’ relief for benefits not to exceed more than 5-years. That was then.

    Some of the young females in the (San Bernadino County) program, at the time (1991), knew that they needed to have more children to earn more money off of welfare. I think that, in many cases, not so scrupulous foster families do the same thing: take ‘State’ benefits as a way to earn more income from the ‘benevolent’ and anonymous ‘State.’ It’s the simple taxpayer who doesn’t know that this is happening because most schools (private and public) are woefully lacking in their ability to teach students that this is how social benefits work. Welfare can serve a purpose, but when it hurts the very people that it’s supposed to help then one must take necessary steps to educate others about the misguided program.

    BTW: There are a lot of very smart welfare recipients (I was once one myself and that is why I researched it.) I met women who scammed the system because they simply got more money from welfare than they would get if they married. On top of this, there are many ‘traders’ who exhange food stamps and cash for various products: cigarettes, drugs, alcohol….

    People need to be part of a productive team that is committed to lifting its members to up morally. Teaching the ‘old’ Ten Good Rules is one place to begin. We have wonderful work to do to glorify our creator!

    Thanks for the awesome writing and speaking y’all’re doing!

    1. Thanks for the personal perspective, LJ. The line between helping those who truly need help and encouraging people not to take responsibility for themselves is one that government is ill-equipped to straddle.

      1. Yes, Susan, I agree. It would be hoped that, were she alive now, Mrs. Roosevelt would also agree with you. I hope that y’all have a Good Shabbos!

  8. Thx, I love the comment of her being considered ‘Conservative’ in today’s world.
    Tell Rabbi Hello

      1. JFK would be considered a rabid, radical right-winger. Slashing marginal tax rates, getting us involved in the Viet Nam war in order to combat the spread of communism, trying to take out Fidel Castro…… those certainly don’t represent the “values” of today’s Democrat party.

    1. About what, Mark? Mrs. Roosevelt was quite an amazing woman. Were you pleasantly surprised at her or me? I do think her book is worth a read.

      1. Susan,
        I wasn’t surprised by your musings, I always enjoy them. This musing brought to mind a book given to me by my granddaughter. The book title is “The Other Einstein”, written by Marie Benedict. I think that you be amazed at how brilliant Albert’s first wife was.

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