No. 38: Keep secrets. No. 39: Take lots of snapshots. No. 40: Never refuse homemade brownies. H. Jackson Brown Jr. appreciates the small things in life. And he likes to share them. And that’s why he sat down one night at his kitchen table in Nashville to begin compiling the experience, advice, and wisdom he’s gathered over his 51 years. The resultant 511-item list was to be a going-off-to-college gift for his son, Adam, now 20. A year to the day after Brown, an adman and author, dropped his only child at the University of Tennessee’s freshman dorm, his gift, now known as Life’s Little Instruction Book had appeared on the New York Times advice paperback best-seller list.
With the book at No. 1 for the last 11 weeks and with sales of 2 million, Brown is still in a state of euphoric disbelief. ”Initially, only three people read it: myself; my wife, Rosemary; and my son.” But when he mentioned the present to his publisher, Larry Stone, who also had a boy going off to U. of T., Stone asked to take a look. ”I thought that it was the kind of advice I’d like to give and to get,” he said. Stone’s instinct that other people would feel the same translated into his company’s all-time best-seller.
No. 99: Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures. No. 123: Learn to listen. Opportunity sometimes knocks very softly. No. 169: Be original. Brown, a creative director at a small advertising and marketing company, has two other books in print. The first, A Father’s Book of Wisdom, is a collection of ideas his dad had stored in a shoebox. The second, P.S. I Love You, is a selection of his mother’s letters. But neither has matched the success of his own Instruction book, which is expected to be released in hardcover this March.
”They’re a reminder of the simple and obvious things that we’ve forgotten,” Brown says of his maxims, ”uncomplicated little things that we can do.” They’re not big things (No. 3: Watch a sunrise at least once a year). And in these belt-tightening times, most of them don’t have to do with money (No. 13: Learn to make great chili. No. 337: Reread your favorite book). And many of the suggestions are within daily reach — easy actions that can make the world a little nicer (No. 173: Be kinder than necessary. No. 497: Don’t be called out on strikes. Go down swinging).
When Brown says, ”I’ve got the most wonderful wife in the world and I’m the happiest, luckiest guy you ever talked to,” he gives the impression that he’d feel that way with or without a best-seller. Come to think of it, he sounds a lot like a guy who knows how to take his own advice (No. 509: Marry only for love. No. 510: Count your blessings. No. 511: Call your mother).