The Desiderata and The Sunscreen Song: a Comparative Analogy of Hope

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A look at how the lyrics and words to two popular works have the common, underlying theme of hope.

The other day, the radio station I normally listen to played the once-popular "Sunscreen Song"; which got me thinking about the Desiderata, a popular (though perhaps less-known today) poetic passage attributed to Max Ehrmann.  Both of these pieces give advice on how to live a good and happy life, or how to be human.  And that, in turn, got me to thinking about what it truly is that makes us human. 

What is it that gives humans the uppermost rung on the food chain ladder?  Well, many things come to mind; of course there is the obvious: we stand erect, have opposable thumbs, and learned to make fire.  But some of our more acute abilities are also more refined: the ability to reason and feel guilt, to plan or scheme, to hate and love, to reminisce...and to hope.  It is this ability to hope, which when all else has been stripped from us, is at the very core of our survival.  We hope.  Hope is the motivating factor in so many decisions we make (whether by intention or passively).  Hope is also the underlying theme in much past and current literature, music, art, etc., although it may not be immediately obvious.

Take, for example, the two poetic works I just mentioned (which are two of my favourites):  the Desiderata, and Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen), also simply known as 'The Sunscreen Song'.  Now, although it is not explicitely indicated in either of these works that "this poem, or this song, is about hope"; (and neither have I found any commentary by either author to support this), the author of Desiderata, Max Ehrmann, and the author of The (Sunscreen Song, Baz Luhrmann, are both basically dispensing some advice: they write of cultivating virtue, common sense, peace and happiness in life.  Well, what is advice, if not bits of wisdom and counsel provided from one to another for future use?  The key here is future use. The act of simply talking of the future implies the hope that it will come, and that our plans for the future will unfold as desired.  Ergo, the foundation for the future, is hope.

It is my hope that, as you read or listen to the lyrics of both these works, that you will be uplifted and inspired, and that you will also be able to detect the underlying message of hope.


(Video at: )

written by Max Ehrmann in the 1920s -- (Not "Found in Old St. Paul's Church" 1692, as has been claimed; see link for interesting background of the work:

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,

be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;

and listen to others,

even to the dull and the ignorant;

they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;

they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,

you may become vain or bitter,

for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;

it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,

for the world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;

many persons strive for high ideals,

and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.

Neither be cynical about love,

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,

it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,

gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,

be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe

no less than the trees and the stars;

you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,

whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labours and aspirations,

in the noisy confusion of life,

keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,

it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)...a.k.a...the sunscreen song

Watch the video here , or read the lyrics below:

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be

it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by

scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable

than my own meandering

experience…I will dispense this advice now. Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; oh nevermind; you will not

understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded.

But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and

recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before

you and how fabulous you really looked….You’re not as fat as you

imagine. Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as

effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing

bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that

never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm

on some idle Tuesday. Do one thing everyday that scares you  ...Sing...    Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with

people who are reckless with yours. ...Floss...    Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes

you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with

yourself. Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you

succeed in doing this, tell me how. Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements  ...Stretch...  Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life

…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they

wanted to do with their lives;  some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t, 

 maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky

chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary…what ever you do, don’t

congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your

choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s. Enjoy your body,

use it every way you can…don’t be afraid of it, or what other people

think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever

own.. Dance…even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room. Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them. Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly. Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for

good. Be nice to your siblings; they are the best link to your past and the

people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you

should hold on.  Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and

lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you

knew when you were young. Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live

in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel. Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will

philander, you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasize

that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were

noble and children respected their elders. Respect your elders. Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund,

maybe you have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one

might run out. Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you're 40, it will

look 85. Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who

supply it.  Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of

fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the

ugly parts and recycling it for more than

it’s worth. But trust me on the sunscreen…

(Lyrics found at:


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