Harry Browne wrote this for his syndicated newspaper column, "The American Way," in 1966.
It may be the best article I've ever read. It expresses the basic truth about life that no one has to do anything for you, be what you want, treat you as you want, etc., regardless of whether they "should."
Understanding this lesson is one of the key signs of emotional maturity, and understanding it so deeply that not only your intellect, but your emotions, conform to it most of the time will save you a great deal of grief and anger in life.
You cannot control other people, especially in any way that will be satisfying for you. So accept others as they are, and look for people who already are what you want. If you dislike something about someone, don't waste time complaining about something you can't control; focus on what do you control, which is your reaction to it: arrange your own affairs so that the person's drawbacks affect you as little as possible.
Harry resurrected this article in 2002, on my suggestion; it became a tradition for the rest of his life to publish it every Christmas. On his last radio show before Christmas in 2002 and 2003, he also read it and expounded on it. These shows are joyous to hear; they're available free at HarryBrowne.org.
If you like it, this article, and about 100 more like it, are available in an e-book collection of Harry's 1960s articles called "Freedom the American Way: Your Future is in Your Hands," which is also available at HarryBrowne.org as an instant download for only $9.75.
In a seminar Harry gave around this time called "The Art of Profitable Living" (which is available as an audio course at HarryBrowne.org), Harry summed up this article's philosophy beautifully when he said, "No one owes you anything, because you have no way to make him pay it."
A Gift For My Daughter
By Harry Browne
The American Way, Vol. 5, No. 51
December 20, 1966
To my 9-year-old daughter:
It’s Christmas and I have the typical problem of trying to know what to give to you. I know there are many things you might enjoy ~ games, books, clothes.
But I’m very selfish. I want to give you something that will last more than a few weeks or months in your mind. In fact, I want to give you a gift that will perhaps lead you to think of me on every Christmas to come in your life.
I have finally realized that if there were only one thing I could give you, I would want it to be a simple truth that took me many years to learn. If you can understand it now, it may enrich your life in hundreds of ways. And it may prevent hundreds of problems that have hurt people who have never learned it.
The truth is simply this:
No one owes you anything.
Now, how could such a simple statement have any great importance? You may not realize it now, but the
deep meaning behind it can bring you a thousand blessings.
It means that no one else is living for you, my child. Because no one is you. Each person is living for himself; his own happiness is all he can ever personally feel.
When you realize that it is no one’s duty to make you happy or give you what you want, you will be freed from the chains of expecting what can never be.
It means that no one has to love you. If your mother loves you, it’s because there is something special about you that gives her happiness. Find out what that something special is and try to make it stronger in you, so that she’ll love you even more.
She doesn’t have to fix meals: she wants to. Aren’t you proud to know that? If you want her to continue to do so, make sure you’re the kind of person that will always inspire her to want to do things for you. And remember that this is an exchange between you ~ each of you is giving happiness to the other. Neither of you owes anything to the other.
No one has to like you. If your friends want to be with you, it is not because it is their duty to be with you. Find out what makes others happy so they’ll want to be near you.
And no one has to respect you. Some people will even try to be unkind to you. But once you realize that people do not have to be good to you, and may not be good to you, you’ll learn to avoid those who would harm you. For you do not owe them anything either.
No one owes you anything.
You owe it to yourself to be the best person possible. Because if you are, others will want to be with you, want to provide you with the things you want in exchange for what you are giving to them.
Some people will choose not to associate with you for reasons that have nothing to do with you. When you know that this is true in a given case, look elsewhere for the relationships you want. Don’t make someone else’s problem your problem.
Once you learn that you must earn the love and respect of others, you will never expect the impossible and so you will never be disappointed. Others do not have to share their property with you nor their feelings nor their thoughts.
If they do, it is because you have earned these things. And you have every reason to be proud of your mother’s love, your friends’ respect, the property you have earned. But don’t ever take them for granted. If you do, you’ll lose them. They’re not yours by right: you must always earn them.
It is not easy to sum up in a few words what has taken me years to learn. But maybe if you reread this gift each Christmas, the meaning will become a little clearer each year. I hope so, for I want more than anything else for you to understand this simple truth that can set you free.
Harry Browne (1933-2006) wrote 12 books that sold over two million copies, and was a popular public speaker from the 1960s until his passing. He was the Libertarian Party's candidate for President of the United States in 1996 and 2000. For more information on his life and work, please visit his website.