5 Things to Learn About the Environment from Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

I first learned about Henry David Thoreau in a literature subject in college. An assigned paper on his life and works brought me to appreciate him. But it was his principles, odd and radical to me, that piqued my interest to know more about our relationship with the environment.

Here are 5 of the things I learned from him:


You cannot put a price tag on living things
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

Think of a block of houses where clumps of trees had once stood. The price of these, according to the developer is these trees’ potential to perform their biological roles in the span of their lifetime.

Is it really worth that? Let’s see. A single tree can live for thousands of years. There are animals, bacteria, and other life forms that depend on it and we in every other way, depend on them as well. Factor in clean breathing air it produces and its ability to hold water in cases of heavy rainfall.

If you want to estimate its worth based on these, you have to wait for its full potential. This is how an asset’s value is estimated anyway. But man will never know a tree’s full potential because he only has enough years to live and decide the appreciation of a property. And yet, man thinks everything is at his disposal.


Each creature lives with a purpose
“Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.”

Understanding leads to appreciation and appreciation leads to a passionate pursuit to let other life forms be. What about those who refuse to understand? They make decisions blinded by ambition that benefits himself, but not others and only for a short time.

When you realize that each creature on earth is vital for life to thrive, you know that they exist for a reason that benefits you in an entirely different, but essential way. You will understand that each living thing is in a network of interconnection that leads to you eventually. That in this complex natural scheme, you, a spec in the universe matter because you have a role to fulfill, too.


A simple life is more meaningful
“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

If you’re reading this, it means you already have an advantage than most people in the world. You have, not only the resources to surf the internet but all other opportunities to make your life better. This means that simplifying your life is creating opportunities for others to survive. How? Some of the resources that you enjoy will be directed to them.

When you decide to put another definition to wealth and success, you lessen your worries, become less materialistic, and more aware of intangible treasures that life has to offer.


Enjoy nature properly
“You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free-margin, and even vagueness – ignorance, credulity – helps your enjoyment of these things.”

When I got into snorkeling, I found myself with the desire to know each colorful creature I take photos of. Let’s just say I got obsessed in watching the underwater – I bought scientific books and made lists of fish to photograph. One day, I missed a passing endangered turtle in the Pacific coast because I was occupied in trying to photograph in perfect lighting a skittish fish.

I realized that what I enjoyed as a simple appreciation of nature turned into an organized, obsessive pursuit to “collect” things – photographs and a list in this case. After that, I placed my raw appreciation and more importantly, the welfare of these wonderful animals above my need to take photos or tick a list. I think all people should, too.


Man’s possessions do not measure his wealth
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

From childhood, our parents remind us to study hard so we could go to a good college that would lead us to find a good job. A good job would give us what we want in life. The word “good” in this sense is tied to wealth for most people. While the norms dictate that having a nice house and a car is what “success” is all about, Thoreau’s alternative way of life suggests the very opposite.

If you can overcome your need for material things, it means you do not let them gain power over you. To you, material possessions are never enough to quantify your happiness.

When you stop claiming lands, exotic animals or any natural resource that rich people buy for business or their own satisfaction, it means you know their true worth. You know they are priceless and that you would have them forever if you let them be.

Instead, you become rich with wisdom and opportunities to make better sense of this life than those who have quantified their life’s worth with the size of their bank account.


Do you agree with Thoreau? Share your thoughts!


Author’s Bio:

Mishca Hayes is an advocate of the green lifestyle. She works with the UK Essay Writers full-time and takes occasional breaks for travel, volunteering, and photography.

Clay Miller
the authorClay Miller
I am the creator/writer of and I'm an advocate for oceans, beaches, state parks. I enjoy all things outdoors (e.g. running, golf, gardening, hiking, etc.) I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky (Go Wildcats!!). I'm also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Kentucky.

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