Aging Thoughtfully: Lofty Thoughts?

by Dr. Mardy Grothe

On a cold January morning in 1852, 45-year old Henry David Thoreau was in his study doing what he did best: reflecting on his life. It was five years since he completed his famous “experiment in living” at nearby Walden Pond (and two more years would elapse before his classic book on the subject would be published). As he warmed himself by the fire, he wrote in his journal:    

Associate reverently and as much as you can with your loftiest thoughts.

Each thought that is welcomed and recorded is a nest egg,

by the side of which more will be laid. 

In his journal entry, Thoreau was joining arms with the many great writers and thinkers who had influenced him over the years. Without exception, the intellectual giants he admired were people who eagerly embraced the lofty thoughts of those who preceded them. One in particular, Sir Isaac Newton, captured it all in his immortal words: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Yet another intellectual hero, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, expressed it this way:

All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times;

but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly,

till they take root in our personal experience.

This is the inaugural issue of a monthly column in which I will be exploring some of the best things ever said on aging and aging-related topics. Even though I’ve been collecting quotations for more than 50 years, it is not completely accurate to call me a quotation lover. You see, it is not quotations that I love, but ideas, and especially Big Ideas that are Beautifully Expressed. It is not an exaggeration to say that some of those ideas have served as a kind of life preserver during some dark and scary times. Robert Burns might well have been speaking for me when he wrote in a 1792 letter to a friend:

I pick up favorite quotations, and store them in my mind as ready armor,

offensive or defensive, amid the struggle of this turbulent existence.

In future columns, I’ll choose a theme each month that has special relevance for people in—or approaching—their senior years (next month’s issue: “Life in the Past Lane”). In each column, I’ll begin by briefly exploring the theme and end with a sampler of quotations to assist you in your reflections on the topic.  Here, then, are more memorable thoughts on the topic of thought:   

Thought once awakened does not again slumber.  — Thomas Carlyle

Nurture your mind with great thoughts.    Benjamin Disraeli   

Always great thoughts are dancing before us.  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Great thoughts reduced to practice become great acts.  — William Hazlitt

A thought often makes us hotter than a fire.  — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Keep your feet on the ground and your thoughts at lofty heights.  — Peace Pilgrim

They are never alone who are accompanied by noble thoughts.  — Philip Sidney

Dr. Mardy Grothe ( is a retired psychologist who lives in Southern Pines. The author of seven quotation anthologies (all available at The Country Bookshop), he is also the creator of Dr. Mardy’s Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations (DMDMQ), the world’s largest online database of metaphorical quotations: