4 Potent Life Lessons From Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin’s accomplishments are otherworldly, and his advice is golden. Here are four life lessons I’ve learned from reading his autobiography (twice). All quotes are by Ben Franklin.

Accept Full Responsibility For Your Life

“Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it, is.”

Benjamin Franklin was born into poverty and obscurity. It was like he started a game of monopoly with $2 instead of the standard $1,500. Do you know what his response was? He said that he would accept a repeat if he could do it all over again.

This response is more profound than it seems, because it means that Ben Franklin didn’t wish for an easier start to life. It was as if he liked the challenge and humility he was born into, while a more common way of thinking is, “If I just had the resources of that family, I could be successful.”

Ben saw the reality of his situation, accepted it, and improved himself steadily into a great man over the course of his lifetime. As I read through his autobiography, I could see the ups and downs in his life average out into an upward line of progress.

Never accept any excuse for your problems, even if your excuse is “a good one.” Excuses make you look and feel weak and reveal a lack of control over your life. If you believe in your excuses, you’re admitting that you were powerless against them, but most of the time, that’s simply not true, or it’s only true because you believed it to be.

“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”

Lesson: What you do with your life is your choice. Ben Franklin’s path was tougher than most, but he didn’t let excuses slow him down.

Expect The Best

“While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.”

When Ben Franklin came to Philadelphia as a young man, he had few coins and no contacts. He bought three rolls of bread with his money and gave two of them away to a mother and her child. Most people will look to his generosity and courage in a time when he wasn’t well off.

I look at his perspective.

He lived as if things would work out for him as long as he kept moving forward, and they did. If he was truly worried about starving, do you think he’d give away 66% of his food supply?

“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”

Lesson: High expectations enable you to reach your potential.

To Persuade People, Take Egos Out Of The Equation

Being a skilled debater, Ben Franklin could usually get people to agree with him using intellectual force, but he found that people were easier to persuade if he claimed appearance over fact. He’d say, “It appears to me that bees fly because I see them airborne” rather than “I know that bees fly because I see them airborne.”

Claiming appearance instead of fact is less threatening to others’ egos, and gives them the opportunity to agree with you without feeling like they lost the argument. Some other techniques he used involved making his tone and demeanor friendly instead of aggressively “taking a stance.” Try this technique the next time you’re arguing with someone, and observe the magic!

Not only does this preserve the ego of the person you’re talking to, it also calms your ego down. Ben Franklin said, “The modest way in which I propos’d my opinions procur’d them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail’d with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.”

Lesson: Take care not to threaten another’s ego, and they will consider your words.


Ben Franklin is known for his virtues and accomplishments, but he had a commendable sense of humor too. I imagine he had a good number of belly laughs in his days. Here are my favorite humorous quotes of his:

  • “He that displays too often his wife and his wallet is in danger of having both of them borrowed.”
  • “Wine is a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”
  • “He’s a fool that makes his doctor his heir.”
  • “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

And my favorite funny quote is about why his brother hit him one day.

“Perhaps I was too saucy and provoking.”

Way too saucy Ben. Waaaay too saucy.

Having a sense of humor has several life benefits. It lowers stress levels, makes you more likable, breaks down social barriers, and can deliver almost any message in a non-threatening package. And if you have the perfect life on paper, but don’t have fun doing it, what’s the point?

Lesson: Laugh early, laugh often, and laugh loudly unless they’re sleeping upstairs.

Bonus Lesson: Focus

Another life lesson Ben Franklin can teach us is the power of focus. He said to “never confuse motion with action,” and lived by it too. This quote has never been more relevant. Go to Deep Existence to discover why focused living is superior and how to do it. I’m the founder, Stephen Guise (twitter), and after seven years of experimenting with different personal development techniques, I found one that stood out above the rest – focusing. Now, Deep Existence helps people get focused in a distracted world.

Which of these life lessons do you need to work on the most?

22 Responses to 4 Potent Life Lessons From Benjamin Franklin

  1. I LOVE your post! It’s so positive, and the message is so simple: live your life instead of merely exist, laugh and respect others. So simple and so hard to live by…
    Thank you for sharing those wonderful thoughts.


  2. I appreciate it, Joanna.

    Ben Franklin had well-defined values and he kept to them. I think how difficult it is to live by that depends on how how strongly you believe in the concepts. If you prioritize laughing, there’s plenty of humor in the world to work with. If the intention is there, it shouldn’t be too hard, but most of the time people won’t commit to a particular lifestyle.

  3. Dan Erickson says:

    Great post. I teach communication and Ben Franklin was a major part of our early press history. He was truly a great man and inspiration. As for me, I need to laugh more.

  4. Thank you Dan.

    I think what set Ben Franklin apart from the average man was his discipline. He chose the right way to do something and set his mind on doing it every time. If I recall correctly, I think his one weakness in discipline was with women.

    Many people don’t intentionally seek laughter as its own goal. I’ve always thought it’s a worthy pursuit because of the numerous mental and physical benefits. Also, it’s easy if you know what kind of humor you like! I can watch Arrested Development to guarantee a few laughs.

  5. Morgan@Financial Bailout News says:

    Great read! Interesting and inspiring, I’ll have to pick up Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography for a summer read! :)

  6. Hi Morgan, thank you!

    By the way, if you’re ok with digital format, Ben Franklin’s autobiography is completely free on Amazon Kindle. You can read it on a kindle device, laptop, or smart phone – http://www.amazon.com/Autobiography-Benjamin-Franklin-ebook/dp/B0083Z40N2/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367433063&sr=1-1&keywords=ben+franklin+autobiography

  7. I will try to apply this list of advice to a round of golf tomorrow. I have a hunch it will improve my normal score significantly – it is that good – I am a terrible golfer!
    All jokes aside: THANKS for a GREAT POST!

  8. Considering the art of debate and communication is basically a sales pitch as humans we have huge barriers put up when communicating with one another, and the ego only leads to one more form of a distraction from actually listening. I wrote a very similar post yesterday about the importance of true interaction, versus pushing your own ideas right away. http://www.growthguided.com/the-perfect-sales-pitch/

  9. Hahaha, that made me laugh as I looked over the post headings again with golf in mind. If you’re laughing a lot while playing golf you’re either really good or really bad. :-)

  10. Listening well can get you far in life, but I’d guess 50% or less of people are good listeners. It’s a very easy habit to get into to push your own ideas, especially if those around you do.

    Ooh, that sounds like a great article, I’ll check it out. Thanks.

  11. Paul Davies says:

    I particular like the first lesson from Ben Franklin’s life. I often think that, given the chance to change my past, particularly the hardships, I would refuse. I know that my past experiences have made me who I am today, and that as long as I take control of it, they will make me stronger. Pain, suffering and struggle prepared people for an exceptional future.

    Really enjoyable post, thanks.


  12. I relate so much to it, Paul. Because 2011-12 were the hardest years of my life. I was in a spiral of anxiety/stress, health problems, and confusion because of the sudden onset of the first two. But I’ve emerged from that experience a war veteran.

    I’m tougher. I’m more confident. I’m stronger than I ever was.

    Now I shudder when I think of missing out on that refinement. It changed me permanently and made me a warrior for life. I pulled myself together and now I’m better than ever!

    Glad you enjoyed the post. Great comment.

  13. I totally agree. It is soo important to develop listening and interpersonal skills.

  14. Dan Erickson says:

    We all have at least one weakness, right? Sometimes I read humorous books just for the fun of it, but haven’t done that in quite awhile. Good reminder.

  15. Laure Cohen says:

    Love the 4 angles you chose to “focus” on. I wouldn’t even be able to say which one is best – they make a coherent and harmonious whole. Thanks for a great post! And thanks for the reference to the Kindle version of Franklin’s autobiography.

  16. You’re welcome Laure, and I appreciate your comment. As for his kindle autobiography, it’s nice to have such a high quality book for free. :-)

  17. susan gregg says:

    I have always been impressed by Benjamin Franklin. I must admit when I think of him I always see an image of him flying a kite. Thanks for the great reminders.

  18. Ravensdasughter says:

    Benjamin Franklin has always been my favorite Founding Father, hands down. Bright, wily, witty, practical-he was really the glue that brought together the Signers of the Declaration to make their historic commitment in writing. And that’s just a highlight, folks (as you can see from many of the other posts…)

    Oh, and with all due respect, I believe the originator of many of the techniques and philosophies you espouse in “Deep Existence” was, in fact, the Buddha.
    I appreciate your article. I also appreciate people who cite their original sources…..

  19. Farhana says:

    Thank u for this post.


  20. Ben Franklin is my favorite founding father too.

    Sorry, but Buddha is the original source for 0% of my content. My sources are my experiences, thoughts, some books, and scientific research. I’m sure there is some overlap and derived material that originated a long time ago, just like all writing.

    Buddha doesn’t “own” the concept of focus and neither do I. If you think what I talk about at Deep Existence is the work of Buddha, and you seem to, then you should be happy his work is being spread. I imagine Buddha himself wouldn’t care about “credit” as much as you do for him.

  21. You’re welcome, Susan. I used to think of him as “the kite guy” too. :-)

  22. Michelle Gil says:

    I LOVED your article!! Right attitude + ego =’s perspective =’s lasting joy. Why is it that we struggle so much with ego and perspective?

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