Will Durant, best known for his eleven-volume masterpiece The Story of Civilization, died in 1981 at age 96. But John Little, founder and director of Will Durant Online, produced yet another Durant book more than twenty years after his death.
Just a little over a hundred pages in length, the title of this little gem is The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time. Though compiled and edited by Little, the words are Durant’s.
I found Chapter 5, “The Ten ‘Peaks’ of Human Progress,” to be especially fascinating. Durant defined progress as “the domination of chaos by mind and purpose, of matter by form or will.”
Included among what Durant believed to be the most important developments of man’s “climb from savage to scientist” are such advances as speech, fire, the conquest of animals, agriculture, social organization, morality, tools, science, education, and writing and print.
Thousands of years of human history make it apparent that man is genetically programmed to move forward — to make progress. As with all things, of course, it’s only a small percentage of the world’s population that moves the human species forward on a macro level.
But you have the capacity to make a great deal of progress on a micro level — meaning, in your own life. To do so, however, it is necessary for you to consciously focus on making personal progress.
Progress toward what? I believe what most people want above all else, consciously or unconsciously, is happiness, and everything they do is merely a means to that end. Some of the more obvious aspects of life that lead to happiness are good health, purpose, and wealth. Thus, a life worth living is one in which you make a conscious effort, on a daily basis, to make progress in important areas such as these.
I purposely listed health first, because without good health everything else is moot. That being the case, you would be wise to make a conscious effort to do something to improve your health every day.
It may mean not eating that peanut butter sandwich or hot fudge sundae you are so fond of. It may mean doing thirty minutes of exercise when you can’t afford the time. It may mean conjuring up the self-discipline to miss a big sporting event on TV in favor of getting to bed early. But whatever it is, just be sure to do something every day to make progress toward improving your health.
As to purpose, the only way you can be certain that you have a meaningful purpose in life is if you can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning and greet the rising sun. Each and every day, you should give serious thought to what your main purpose in life is and make periodic adjustments as needed.
Finally, wealth-building. There are idealists who don’t like to admit it, but the reality is that progress in wealth-building makes it much easier to make progress in most other areas of life. And remember, wealth-building is a hands-on process.
Borrowing from Will Durant, to make consistent progress, you have to become adept at “dominating chaos.” In today’s world, chaos comes in many forms: e-mail, telephones, voice-activated runarounds, cellphones, meetings, and, of course, the sensational kidnappings, rapes, murders, acts of terrorism, and natural disasters that saturate the media. The challenge is for you — as a healthy, purpose-driven, wealth-building human being — to progress more rapidly than the chaos around you.
If you are not vigilant about shutting out as much chaos from your life as possible, you can be sure that chaos will dominate you. But when you dominate chaos, the result is that you are increasingly able to control your environment.
Your time in the secular phase of your eternal journey is limited. Use it wisely by focusing on making consistent progress in such areas as health, purpose, and wealth-building. If you do well with these, you can feel pride in the knowledge that you are among those individuals on this planet who are not adding to its problems.
Whether you’re thirty, sixty, or ninety years old, you should seek to grow every day of your life. Make no mistake about it, progress is your destiny — and you owe it to yourself to fulfill that destiny.