The three pieces of advice the world’s smartest man shared with his children before he died | Sunday Observer

The three pieces of advice the world’s smartest man shared with his children before he died

18 April, 2021

“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” — Stephen Hawking

At the age of 21, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a debilitating disease in which you lose control over your muscles. Given only a few years to live, the future physics genius became severely depressed. His doctors advised him to go on with his studies, but Stephen felt otherwise.

In his mind there was little point in even getting out of bed. However, over time his spirits began to be lifted. Knowing that this was something he couldn’t control, he launched himself into doing the things that his physical condition still allowed him.

“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.” — Stephen Hawking

Despite the dire prognosis, life turned out much better than expected. Stephen went on to live to the ripe old age of 76, passing away on March 14, 2018. While he couldn’t do much with his body, his brilliant mind was able to tackle problems that most ordinary mortals couldn’t.

Stephen Hawking the scientist contributed much to understanding how the universe works, but arguably his greatest message to the rest of humanity was his positivity. Even a debilitating illness didn’t stop him. Always remember this lesson from the great thinker: No matter your circumstances, you can rise above them and become a success.

Advice Hawking gave to his children

Stephen Hawking was a man full of wisdom. In a 2010 interview with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, he was asked about the advice he would give to his children. His reply was breathtaking:

“Here are the most important pieces of advice that I’ve passed on to my children. One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is rare and don’t throw it away.”

Stephen had been married twice, fathering three children. The oldest, Robert, became a software engineer. His only daughter, Lucy, is a writer who co-authored a book with her father. His youngest son, Tim, went in another direction, joining the corporate world. No matter their walk of life, the kids took their father’s advice to heart. When he passed away, they repeated one of his lessons in their eulogy:

“It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet”

Most people go through life just looking at their feet. They forget to stop and look up. However, greats like Stephen Hawking spend a lot less time staring at their shoes, and a lot more gazing at the stars. For it is curiosity and wonder that are the keys to creativity. Research has shown that they are at the origin of discoveries, big and small. Awareness, excitement, and exploration are all essential building blocks of wonder, which in itself is important for the process of creation.

Much of Stephen Hawking’s work focused on theoretical physics. Black holes were his passion. These are regions of space-time where gravity is so strong that it sucks in all the matter around. However, through his study of these phenomena, Stephen realised that black holes weren’t just something sitting in the deep corners of the universe.

They could also be used as metaphors for life. In one of his public lectures, the famous scientist quipped that despite the view of black holes as being enormous pits sucking in everything, there is always a way out. Just don’t give up trying.

“Black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up — there’s a way out.”

Peering at the countless little yellow dots sparkling above his head in the dead of night allowed Stephen Hawking to look deep down inside himself. It gave him answers not only to grand metaphysical questions, but also the strength necessary to go on in his own personal life. Despite the enormous challenges ahead of him, Hawking pressed on.

“Work gives you meaning and purpose - life is empty without it”

Purpose has been described as the key to overcoming even the direst of circumstances. Viktor Frankl, the famous Viennese psychiatrist, saw the will to purpose as the driving force of existence. Finding meaning in his struggle allowed him to overcome the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

― Viktor E. Frankl (quoting Friedrich Nietzsche)

What drives people can be divided into extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation are things like money or fame. However in themselves, these are empty. In various studies researchers found that pay and job satisfaction don’t always correlate. Instead, something deeper is needed to drive a person to achieve more. It is usually intrinsic motivation, one that comes from wonder and curiosity which is the more powerful factor.

That is why finding work that gives you meaning and purpose is incredibly important if you want to succeed in life. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, nine out of 10 people are willing to earn less money if they get to do meaningful work.

In a quote otherwise attributed to various famous people, humorist Leo Rosten stated that the purpose of life is to be productive, useful, and above all to make a difference.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy — but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.” — Leo Rosten

Rosten’s ideas point to what some researchers have argued are the two key aspects of significant work. One is to have a broader purpose which is tied to serving a greater good. It’s about feeling that you are contributing to something bigger than yourself.

The other key aspect is self-realisation. This is having a sense of autonomy, and being able to express yourself. It’s about fulfilling your own desires and achieving what you believe you are capable of. For Abraham Maslow, this was at the highest level of his hierarchy of needs.

Hawking’s advice to his kids is echoed by something that Albert Einstein, another physics genius, gave to his own son. Finding meaning in your work can give you enormous states of flow.

“That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal.”

“If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is rare and don’t throw it away”

Love is powerful. Humans are social animals, and the most incredible parts of this experience are the feelings of deep affection that you have towards certain individuals. Science has only confirmed the words of Hawking.

In one study, scientists determined that it generates good stress, which gives you energy throughout the day. In another study, researchers discovered that it improves performance in a variety of activities. Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for the sensations associated with love. Its release into the body has been found to not only promote social behavior and stress regulation, but also help to alleviate different types of psychiatric disorders.

While love has benefits that can be measured, its beauty lies beyond this. Love acts as a binding force that is above anything else. As medieval Persian poet Rumi so elegantly stated, true love rests on no foundation, but it is an endless ocean that doesn’t begin or end.

“Love rests on no foundation. It is an endless ocean, with no beginning or end.” — Rumi

The things to keep in mind

Stephen Hawking was a genius, one whose contributions to our understanding of how the universe works have been enormous. He was also a man, one that overcame a debilitating illness. Perhaps this bad fortune allowed him to see things from a different perspective.

This unique way of looking at the experience of going through life gave him immeasurable wisdom. He passed these thoughts onto his kids, and the rest of us. Here are the most important lessons to always keep in mind:

• Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.

• Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.

• If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is rare and don’t throw it away.