With uncertainty and complexity abounding, too much information flooding over most of us and the Global Happiness Index (GHI) challenged by much in modern life, it's worth noting that the best advice is often wrapped in a children's story or rhyme, which only endures to be repeated through generations and across cultures because it is quintessentially true.
Few can beat the little song we used to sing in rounds while on summer holiday before anyone held a hand-held anything to amuse them during those seemingly endless hours in the car. (And kids singing verses together don't squabble.)
This one has its origins in English nursery rhyme and American minstrel songs and supposedly first appeared in print in the U.S. in 1852.
Row row row
down the stream
merrily merrily merrily merrily
but a dream.
Why should this have become such a repeated mantra for children? Full of advice for getting through life, it has inspired many to reflect on its deeper meanings. As a sailor who has often rowed back and forth between shore and a sailboat, I have had plenty of time to think about it - and enthusiastically sung it many times with my own children when they were small.
Row row row
Rowing requires both hands, applied equally for the most part (and use your back and legs if you want to bring real strength to the action) and a sense of direction.
Balance! Don't pull too hard to one side unless you want to turn or you will soon be off course. Steady and rhythmical is almost always better than too much effort expended in bursts. Repetition and self control matter. Practice makes perfect.
Not someone else's. You're in it so you need to take care of it. It's the only one you've got. And it is uniquely yours - in what it's made of and contains and where it's going (or could go).You are on your own in most respects. So care for your boat like no other.
Of all the adverbs in the language to appear here, why this one? Think about the way you conduct yourself. How does it feel, and feel to others? Considerate, tender, gradual, refined, of good family - and the word hints etymologically "of the same clan." So row with a sense of belonging among others - congenially.
Down the stream
Yes, go with the flow, not fighting the current (although this may be necessary sometimes) but using the nature and direction of the stream to help you along. A stream is always moving and never exactly the same in any other place or at any other time. So keep paying attention to the stream wherever you find yourself in it.
Merrily merrily merrily merrily
"In a joyous manner" is one definition offered, but also consider that this adverb (any word that describes action) is repeated four times. No other word is given as much space or attention. So attitude matters a lot! And this attitude should live in the world of delight, pleasure, humor and joy.
Ah, life itself - everything around you that you see, feel, touch, smell, know, imagine, desire, fear, revile or revere...
is but a dream.
Images, ideas and emotions that seem to come upon us or that we may conceive spontaneously are all in us. This complex of perceptions are "real" but also "imagined" in the sense that they are the unique images we take from - or bring to - the world. That world is in us too. (Some might say it had its origins in us from birth, or even before that!)
Is life not as we imagine it to be?
Row row row your boat, gently, down the stream…
Merrily merrily merrily merrily - life is but a dream...