Recently I wrote how I’ve been able to live a more fulfilling life by saying “yes” to opportunities and experiences instead of being afraid of them. Another way to look at this is that I’ve developed self-reliance — I’ve learned to take responsibility for my own happiness instead of being passive, leaving my happiness in the hands of others.

Here’s a short educational film from 1951 that explores the subject of self-reliance. “If you’re not self-reliant, you’ll never do any more than just ‘get by’,” says the narrator.

I love how in his desk, Mr. Carson, the French teacher, just happens to have a typewritten card with the four steps to self-reliance. Here they are, with a bit of elaboration.

  1. Assume responsibility. Take the blame for things that are your fault; look after your own work; plan your own time; depend on yourself to get things done.
  2. Be informed. If you don’t know some vital piece of information, find it out. Ask. Get the facts you need to make smart decisions. Knowledge gives you power. Ignorance puts you at the mercy of others.
  3. Know where you’re going. Set goals. Have a long-range plan so that you understand the general course you’re trying to make through life. Don’t simply react passively to the world around you.
  4. Make your own decisions. Develop the ability to think for yourself. Don’t rely on others to make choices for you — that’s a sure route to unhappiness. Be decisive.

These steps are very similar to habits espoused by modern self-help gurus. Taking control of your own destiny is a great way to improve your satisfaction with life, to increase your happiness. The film picks up bonus points from this lit geek by name-dropping Ralph Waldo Emerson and his essay, “Self-Reliance“:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.