A Few Good Habits

By Franklin S. Harris


It is just 50 years ago that I came to this institution as a freshman. Today I wish to think of college entrance after 50 years of experience. Many times previously I have said, and I now repeat, that if I were about to enter college I would first wish to establish a few good habits.

Of these desirable habits, I would place health habits first. After all, health is the most precious thing we have. Not money, not learning, but health comes first because all other good things depend on health.

Next to health I would put the habit of work. It is one of the most delightful and important of all of the habits of life. No matter how fine a dancer a boy may be or how well he knows how to plaster down his hair or tie his tie, unless he knows how to make a living for his family he falls far short of realizing all that life has for him and for those who will be dependent on him. In college one should acquire the training, the skills, and the habit of work that will enable him to earn a living.

Going along with work there is something else that is important. This is recreation. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” A student in college should begin to learn proper habits of recreation, to choose recreation that will be constructive and not too expensive, that will be adequate for the situation in which he finds himself.

Next comes another activity sometimes associated with recreation which was not emphasized in my young days. In those days Theodore Roosevelt was writing of the strenuous life, and people lauded the man who would get up early and stay up late and work hard all the time in between. But I have learned since then about the importance of rest. My father used to say to us if we had a rainy day in Canada on our ranch or if it was bad weather on our ranch in Mexico, “Well, boys, the day is worth just as much for us to be resting or reading and studying as it is for work.” Thinking of the value of time for rest, recreation, and study, as well as for work, is an attitude that many farm families could well emulate.

The most important thing for students, the real reason for their coming to college, is to study so that the mind may be trained. Study should not be confined to the mere learning of facts. The learning of facts is really a secondary quality of mind; most mere facts can readily be had from the encyclopedia. The important mental activity is to learn to think.

In the old days it was thought that one should learn a trade and master certain facts. However, the world is advancing so fast that facts and skills soon get out of date. This is evident when I tell you that at the time I entered college 50 years ago I had never ridden in an automobile because there weren’t any to be had. The entire automobile industry has developed since I was a freshman student. The moving pictures have all developed during this same time. Also all of the radios. There were no radios in the world when I was a student at Brigham Young University. There were no airplanes in the world. All those things have developed since that day. If people had been educated just for facts in a particular trade, they would have been unable to meet the situations of a new world.

I’m not a prophet nor a son of a prophet, but I predict that in the next 50 years there will actually be more new developments than have been made during the past 50 years. And so it is important that students get fundamental training and ability to think so that they can adjust to these changes.

As to subject matter, it can be said that all subjects, such as chemistry, algebra, physics, and English, have their place, but the most important of all of them is the subject of religion and spirituality. More books are being published on religion than on any other subject, and it is the most common topic of conversation. Wherever I’ve been in the world, somehow people have learned that I was a Mormon and that has brought up the subject of religion. People everywhere like to talk about that subject. And so I believe that students should take every opportunity for religious activity because this tends to promote spirituality.

In summing up, if I were to become a student, knowing all that I now know, I would seek to establish habits of health, of work, and of recreation and rest. I would try to learn how to study and I would try to develop spirituality. If I had all these habits and skills I should probably be able to live a life of appreciation for the best things of the world.

The real aim in education for all of us is to develop our God-given personalities to the highest possible point.

This article is extracted and edited from an address by Franklin S. Harris given May 4, 1953, to the BYU student body. President Harris, BYU president from 1921 to 1945, will be honored as part of the 1998 Homecoming celebration.