The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang



If you believe Lin Yutang, author of The Importance of Living, man is a curious wayward dreamer who is furiously pursuing all the wrong things. Yutang has a very specific philosophy for living life which will bring genuine contentment, and he begins with the idea of detachment, which is similar to Buddhist philosophy. Yutang says that in order to be happy, man must go through life with a certain amount of nonchalance, and distance himself from outcomes and results. He feels that we could be a lot happier if we were more like the country squire and less like the Wall Street banker.

To Yutang, humans are influenced by two great forces, idealism and realism, and the valuable characteristic of humor is essential for toning down our dreams (i.e. idealism) into reality. Yutang thinks that we need humor for the right perspective in life, and for reasonableness in living. With humor, we learn to never expect too much or too little. In this, Yutang is not unlike Johnathan Swift who said:

In comedy the best actor plays the part of the droll, while some second rogue is made the hero or fine gentleman. So, in this farce of life, wise men pass their time in mirth, while fools are only serious. (The Comic Vision and the Christian Faith)

Yutang espouses a philosophy of moderation, which he calls the philosophy of half and half . . . half action and half non-action. And for those of us who are doers, this idea of inaction may seem troublesome, but Yutang says we must learn to be magnificent idlers, spinning for spinning’s sake.

Yutang also believes that we are more animal than angel and that we are not made in the image of God, but in the image of the monkey. He goes on to describe two types of humans: herbivorous and carnivorous, the former being the artist and peace-maker; the latter, the warrior and brute among us. He thinks that the salvation of man lies in the warrior and brutes becoming herbivores, “chattering like women.” He says that unless we bring our lives into harmony with our instincts and educate our senses and emotions, rather than educating our ideas, we will never be fulfilled or truly evolved.

He has many more thoughts on how to live a happier, more fulfilled life, everything from what constitutes a good family life, drinking and wine games, to growing old gracefully. This book is an excellent roadmap for the disquieted, modern soul. You’ll discover not to take things so seriously, and to enjoy yourself without feeling guilty for not doing enough.  I leave you with a quotation from the book:

The ideal world for mankind will not be a rational world, nor a perfect world in any sense, but a world in which imperfections are readily perceived and quarrels reasonably settled. For mankind, this is frankly the best we can hope for and the noblest dream that we can reasonably expect to come true. This seems to imply several things: a simplicity of thinking, a gaiety in philosophy and a subtle common sense, which will make this reasonable culture possible. Now it happens that subtle common sense, gaiety of philosophy and simplicity of thinking are characteristic of humor and must arise from it.

GrettaB-38Gretta Barclay is a passionate reader, writer, and lover of art in all its forms. She writes essays, short stories, poems, and novels. Her first novel, “To See a Sundog”, is an adventure story that takes place in a small Midwest town. She is in the process of writing her second novel.