Desiderata: Happiness is a journey, not just a destination…

“Desiderata” is Latin for “desired things”, and the plural of desideratum. Desiderata is also the title of a famous prose poem written by Max Ehrmann an American spiritual writer and attorney.

It captures his thoughts about attaining happiness in life. Its universal and timeless sentiments have resonated with people all over the world. As with the ‘Chief Seattle speech‘, another urban legend has emerged suggesting that this poem was “found” at Old St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore and is as old as 1692.

But in this instance, the Church itself has clarified Ehrmann actually wrote it himself and copyrighted it in 1927.

None of this takes away from the beauty and profundity of the poem. Living in a world full of clutter and noise, I find much comfort in this. Here’s one illustrated version I found online:

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

6 thoughts on “Desiderata: Happiness is a journey, not just a destination…”

  1. About 20 years ago I read this poem in a magazine selling inspirational cards. I sat down on my PC, read the minute letters and typed the whole poem out, printed it and stuck it on the wall next to me. I read it everyday, and when things got bad, I would read it, and find inspiration and hope…strive to be happy! I kept the printout with me long after I moved on in life but never really read it like I did those years ago. When I discovered it today and started to read it was amazing how I remembered every line. Thank you Nalaka for helping me rediscover this amazing poem, which I will get printed and framed for all time. I will surely pass it down to my son and hopefully grandchildren, for however much this world progresses and evolves, these words will ring true, throughout time.

  2. Susan, Many thanks for sharing your experience – which I’m sure will resonate with many other admirers of this verse.

    I have my own story. I was introduced to it more than 15 years ago, in the pre-web days (remember them?), by a senior scientist friend. He was so moved by it that he had made multiple brass plaques containing the full text of Desiderata, which he selectively gave to young couples. He urged them to read it frequently, and to heed its timeless call.

    Sadly, the plaque has outlived my own marriage: some things in life are beyond the power of even the most eloquently expressed words, I guess. As I write this, the plaque of Desiderata is in front of me, lying within centimetres of my laptop. In recent weeks, as I weathered higher levels of personal turbulence, I’ve been re-reading the words – they never fail to soothe my nerves and infuse hope.

    This is Word Power at its best. Across the gulf of time, Max Ehrmann has transmitted us a message that reverberates decades after he passed on in 1945. We now amplify it and pass it forward…

  3. Hello Nalaka

    Ten years ago my commitment to seek the marriage to my wife Chile became certain as she sent a hand embroided and scrolled citation of Desiderata, reflecting what she had assessed as being important to me.
    We celebrate our ten years, now having gorgeous 14 month old twins, Lovelia and Zev.
    I was musing on what Desiderata does NOT really go to, noting partners and children and the whole nuclear family do not really get a mention or guidance.
    A search only found that Desiderata had failed to mention the most successful society and its rather inhuman structure for modern times.. that of ants.
    I found that quite a good muse but leaves me still asking about Desiderata and families.

    Any muses from yourself or others ?

    Kind regards

  4. @Harry, Thanks for sharing your own personal experience of Desiderata. There seem to be so many…I hope someday, an enterprising editor and publisher would collect the best of these stories into book.

    Meanwhile, my answer to your question on family: Desiderata is focused on the relationship between our individual self and the world around us (this focus is also a main reason for its enduring appeal – it doesn’t try to cover too many things). It gives guidance on how we may find the right levels, which in turn can give us peace and happiness that so elude so many of us. The core principles in this prose poem can be extended to cover nuclear and extended families, work places, neighbourhood and other communities that we are part.

  5. My friends, this poem has been one of the sources of influence of my life since it was recorded as a song of sorts in the mid 70’s. There are lines and phrases throughout it’s length that have continued to remind and inspire me to do better, and keep my eyes to the heavens.
    May God Bless you all in your efforts to do better, all-ways.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: