This post is the third in a series of five posts that presents Benjamin Franklin as a person who epitomizes the power of the Philosophy for LYF and the LRN LAF LUV LIV deeds of goodness. The first post introduced Benjamin Franklin and his pursuit of goodness. Goodness is the foundational core value for your elevated life. The second post provided examples of Franklin living the LRN deed of goodness in which he improved the goodness in himself and empowered the goodness in others.
This post shares illustrations of Benjamin Franklin living the LAF deed of goodness and how he enjoyed the goodness in himself and uplifted the goodness in others.
Humor to enjoy himself and uplift others
Benjamin Franklin had an excellent sense of humor, quite witty and playful. This was apparent throughout his life as this small sampling of examples show.
At the age of 16 Franklin wrote letters to his brother's newspaper in secret and under the persona of a middle-aged widow named Silence Dogood. He took pleasure in writing these small pieces and seeing them published in the paper. These letters were written to be entertaining to the readers, and they succeeded. The writings were so engaging that some men offered to marry Ms. Dogood when they learned she was a widow.
Starting at age 27 and for the next 26 years Franklin compiled, wrote, and published humorous sayings and advice in yearly editions of Poor Richard's Almanack. These almanacks were a source of pleasure for him, and they were a delightful read for his audience. Some of his wit from the Almanack:
"Great Talkers, little Doers."
"Fish and visitors smell after three days."
"He that lies down with Dogs, shall rise up with fleas."
Even when he was much older and in pain, his humor was still visible. Franklin suffered from gout for many years of his life. In 1780 at age 74 and during one particularly painful attack of gout, he wrote "Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout", a satirical fictional dialogue between himself and his disease.
Storytelling to uplift others
Franklin had many personal stories and anecdotes full of humor and wisdom to share with others. Sometimes he would use these stories to improve the dynamics in the room and uplift the spirits of others.
Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and later the third President of the United States, documented a few examples in his diary, including this one during a serious political negotiation.
The confederation of the States, while on the carpet before the old Congress, was strenuously opposed by the smaller States, under apprehensions that they would be swallowed up by the larger ones. We were long engaged in the discussion; it produced great heats, much ill humor, and intemperate declarations from some members. Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin at length brought the debate to a close with one of his little apologues. He observed that “at the time of the union of England and Scotland, the Duke of Argyle was most violently opposed to that measure, and among other things predicted that, as the whale had swallowed Jonah, so Scotland would be swallowed by England. However,” said the Doctor, “when Lord Bute came into the government, he soon brought into its administration so many of his countrymen, that it was found in event that Jonah swallowed the whale.” This little story produced a general laugh, and restored good humor, and the article of difficulty was passed.
Exercise and games to enjoy himself and uplift others
Benjamin Franklin learned to swim in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's Schuylkill River. Swimming was not a common activity. He wrote in his autobiography, "I had from a child been ever delighted with this exercise, had studied and practis'd all Thevenot's motions and positions, added some of my own, aiming at the graceful and easy as well as the useful."
At the age of 19 while in England while on a boat ride on the Thames River in England, he wrote that he "stripped and leaped into the river, and swam from near Chelsea to Blackfriar's, performing on the way many feats of activity, both upon and under water, that surpris'd and pleas'd those to whome they were novelties." This was nearly a three-mile swim.
Franklin also enjoyed playing chess. In 1732 he outlined an essay on chess that was eventually published in 1786 titled The Morals of Chess. He enjoyed this "diversion", as he called it in the essay, and noted that it was "not merely an idle amusement" as the game had several very valuable qualities useful in the course of human life. He began playing the game in Philadelphia in his younger years and continued through his later years when he lived in Paris.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in his diary a little anecdote related to Franklin and chess.
"[Benjamin Franklin] was therefore, feasted and invited to all the court parties. At these he sometimes met the old Duchess of Bourbon, who, being a chess player of about his force, they very generally played together. Happening once to put her king into prize, the Doctor took it. 'Ah,' says she, 'we do not take kings so.' 'We do in America,' said the Doctor."
Music to enjoy himself and uplift others
Benjamin Franklin was keenly interested in music. He could play the harp, violin (viol da gamba), and guitar. He attended concerts frequently. He printed sheet music in his print shop.
Franklin also invented a musical instrument he originally labeled the "glassychord", but eventually named the "glass armonica" (from the Italian "armonia" meaning harmony). Based on the "wet finger stroked against the rim of a glass" phenomena, he created a design that eliminated water tuning and evaporation, reduced the size needed for all the glasses, and increased the playability. He had each glass tailor-made with the correct size and thickness to give the right pitch without being filled with water, had the set of glasses nested inside each other (like Russian dolls) to shrink the instrument, and mounted the glasses on a spindle turned by a foot treadle.
Here is how Franklin described the instrument in a letter to Giambatista Beccaria, an Italian, after hearing a member of the Royal Society play music from a collection of glasses filled with water:
You have doubtless heard the sweet tone that is drawn from a drinking glass, by passing a wet finger round its brim...a number of glasses of different sizes, fixed them near each other on a table, and tuned them by putting into them water, more or less, as each note required...
Being charmed by the sweetness of its tones, and the music he produced from it, I wished only to see the glasses disposed in a more convenient form, and brought together in a narrower compass, so as to admit of a greater number of tunes, and all within reach of hand to a person sitting before the instrument, which I accomplished, after various intermediate trials, and less commodious forms, both of glasses and construction...
The advantages of this instrument are, that its tones are incomparably sweet beyond those of any other; that they may be swelled and softened at pleasure by stronger or weaker pressures of the finger, and continued to any length; and that the instrument, being once well tuned, never again wants tuning. In honour of your musical language, I have borrowed from it the name of the instrument, calling it the Armonica.
A woman named Marianne Davies toured Europe playing his instrument. Mozart wrote two works for it. And Beethoven also wrote a little piece for it.
The biographer Carl Van Doren wrote that Franklin's musical invention brought himself much happiness. And it is thought that his daughter Sally learned to play it as well.
Socializing to enjoy himself and uplift others
Edmund Morgan in an Introduction to the Papers of Benjamin Franklin described Franklin this way. "He loved company and rarely missed an opportunity to be with other people. He seems to have charmed them all. His was probably the most brilliant mind that most people who knew him had ever met, but he seldom showed it in public. He could chat with beggars and kings, scholars and shopkeepers, and make them all feel comfortable in his presence."
Franklin frequented many social gatherings throughout his life. The Junto club he founded when he was 21 met every Friday evening to chat, laugh, drink, and sing, as well as improve their minds and their business success. At age 55 Franklin wrote in a letter to Hugh Roberts, a longtime fellow Junto club member, "I find I love Company, Chat, a Laugh, a Glass, and even a Song, as well as ever; and at the same Time relish better than I us'd to do, the grave Observations and wise Sentences of old Men's Conversation."
John Adams, who eventually became the second President of the United States, complained in his diary in May 1778 about Franklin while both were in Paris, making the following assertions about Franklin's social life:
It was late when he breakfasted, and as soon as Breakfast was over, a crowd of Carriges came...with all Sorts of People; some Phylosophers, Accademicians and Economists; some of his small tribe of humble friends in the litterary Way whom he employed to translate some of his ancient Compositions...but by far the greater part were Women and Children, come to have the honour to see the great Franklin, and to have the pleasure of telling Stories about his Simplicity, his bald head and scattering strait hairs, among their Acquaintances. These Visitors occupied all the time, commonly, till it was time to dress to go to Dinner. He was invited to dine abroad every day and never declined unless when We had invited Company to dine with Us....Mr. Franklin kept a horn book always in his Pockett in which he minuted all his invitations to dinner, and Mr. Lee said it was the only thing in which he was punctual...He went according to his Invitation to his Dinner and after that went sometimes to the Play, sometimes to the Philosophers but most commonly to visit those Ladies who were complaisant enough to depart from the custom of France so far as to procure Setts of Tea Geer as it is called and make Tea for him. Some of these Ladies I knew as Madam Hellvetius, Madam Brillon, Madam Chaumont, Madam Le Roy &c. and others whom I never knew and never enquired for. After Tea the Evening was spent, in hearing the Ladies sing and play upon their Piano Fortes and other instruments of Musick, and in various Games as Cards, Chess, Backgammon, &c. &c. Mr. Franklin I believe however never play'd at any Thing but Chess or Checquers. In these Agreable and important Occupations and Amusements, The Afternoon and Evening was spent, and he came home at all hours from Nine to twelve O Clock at night.
Experiments and inventions to enjoy himself and uplift others
Benjamin Franklin worked as a printer until his early forties. He wrote in his autobiography that "by the sufficient tho' moderate fortune I had acquir'd, I had secured leisure during the rest of my life for philosophical studies and amusements." Franklin had an inquisitive mind and enjoyed improving his scientific understanding of the world and inventing things.
He conducted experiments related to electricity (discovering positive and negative electric charges), mapped the gulf stream (although known by Spanish explorers, it had never been mapped before), explained the aurora borealis (correctly theorizing that it was caused by electrical charges), observed that storms have the ability to move in the opposite direction of the wind (one of the first accurate explanations of the movement of storms in the Atlantic Northeast), concluded that colds are passed from people to people when they are in close contact (and not due to wet clothing and damp air).
He also spent his leisure time designing inventions to make everyday life easier, more enjoyable, and safer. He invented swimming fins, the glass armonica (mentioned earlier), the Franklin stove, the lightning rod, a new design for street lamps, bifocals, a new odometer to measure postal routes, and a flexible urinary catheter.
These experiments and inventions were for his enjoyment and not for business. He could have patented these inventions for a large profit. In his autobiography, he mentioned that for his Franklin stove the governor "offered to give me a patent for the sole vending of them for a term of years; but I declin'd it from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz., That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously."
As exemplified in the previous paragraph ("we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others"), Franklin understood the importance of gratefulness and the little things in life that bring happiness.
In his autobiography he noted the following after describing the benefits of sweeping the streets so dust does not get blown into people's eyes.
Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day. Thus, if you teach a poor young man to shave himself, and keep his razor in order, you may contribute more to the happiness of his life than in giving him a thousand guineas. The money may be soon spent, the regret only remaining of having foolishly consumed it; but in the other case, he escapes the frequent vexation of waiting for barbers, and of their sometimes dirty fingers, offensive breaths, and dull razors; he shaves when most convenient to him, and enjoys daily the pleasure of its being done with a good instrument.
Franklin also noted that he had gone through life with a considerable amount of happiness.
That felicity, when I reflected on it, has induced me sometimes to say, that were it offered to my choice, I should have no objection to a repetition of the same life from its beginning, only asking the advantages authors have in a second edition to correct some faults of the first. So I might, besides correcting the faults, change some sinister accidents and events of it for others more favourable. But though this were denied, I should still accept the offer.
Franklin's actions well illustrate the LAF deed of goodness.
Next: Benjamin Franklin and LUV.