The Most Inspiring Life Lessons From Humans of New York
In the hustle and bustle of modern living, it’s not uncommon to find yourself forgetting that, you know what, we’re all in this together. That’s the unspoken mission statement of Humans of New York, the hugely popular portrait project of Brandon Stanton, a photographer who began capturing candid snaps of people going about their days on the streets of New York City and beyond. The quotes that accompany the simple yet arresting photographs are lightning-fast avenues into the inner lives of strangers. They are at turns heartrending, touching, surprising, and almost always inspiring.
With more than 13 million likes on Facebook and now a best-selling book, HONY—as it is shorthanded—is an Internet sensation, encouraging followers to expand their perspectives and think twice about the people they share the subway with, or those who gruffly bump into them on the street. With thoughts on love, loss, and everything in between, the snippets captured are powerful stuff. Scroll to read some of the best.
“I think if you want to accomplish something big, you need to be a bit shaken. And we’ve gotten a bit too comfortable here. So we’re going to move to California and see what happens.”
“I don’t want to say I was depressed, but my life has been pretty humdrum for the past 18 years. Every day I’d wake up, eat breakfast, go to church, go back home—always the same thing. But now I’ve met this woman and suddenly I feel young again. I can’t concentrate. All I want to do is be with her. I used to eat whenever I wanted, but now I can get by on just a banana. I’m even trying to improve myself. I’m doing push-ups in the morning. Can you believe that? Four herniated discs in my back, and I’m doing push-ups every morning.”
“We met three years ago in Grand Central Station. I got stuck working late, so I missed my train and was in a terrible mood. I went to get some food at the bar, and the only stool open was next to him. I asked if anyone was sitting there, and he told me ‘no,’ and helped me take off my coat. A few minutes later, his son came back from a cigarette break, and I was in his seat. All of us spent the next two hours talking. When I left, his son chased me down, handed me his business card, and said, ‘I think my dad really likes you. If you think you might like him too, please send me an email.’”
“I’m practicing my lines. I just got off work and I’ve got an all-night shoot tonight. I’m playing a goofy senator in a small independent film. I’m 81 now, and I didn’t even begin acting until I was 76. I always wanted to do it since I was a kid, so I thought it was now or never. I’d love to get just one meaty part in a movie.”
“There are days when I can be great at my job and there are days when I can be a great mom. I’m trying to have as many days that I can do both at the same time. And I’m learning to forgive myself on the days that I can’t.”
“When I was a kid, I’d always wanted to be a writer. I even made a go of it when I was younger. I moved to California in my 20s and tried to make it work. I almost sold a screenplay. I traveled around a bunch and worked odd jobs, but by the time I hit my 30s, I said, ‘That’s it.’ And I went into the insurance business. I worked for a wonderful company—the one with the duck. But September 11 really shook me up. A couple days before, I’d flown out of the same airport as one of the hijacked planes. I hadn’t written anything in 17 years, but I thought, ‘Win, lose, or draw, I’ve got to try this one more time.’ So at the age of 51, I became a writer again.’”
“She always has something exciting planned for us.”
“What was the happiest moment of your life?”
“I don’t think I have one yet, but it’s probably coming up and it’s going to be a surprise.”
“She beautifies my disillusioned brain. She’s like my fairy godmother. For the last 15 years, she’s called me every morning, and she makes me repeat after her: ‘This is the best day of my life. I’m a genius. I love people, and people love me. I never criticize, condemn, or complain. Everyone I meet today is loving and respectful. I love God, and God loves me.’”
“When is the time you felt most broken?” “I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I just got whooped. I had been in the state legislature for a long time, I was in the minority party, I wasn’t getting a lot done, and I was away from my family and putting a lot of strain on Michelle. Then for me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do. I was 40 years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working. But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking, ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’—then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”
“What’s your biggest dream for your child?”
“We’ll let him dream for himself.”
“When I was 19, my girlfriend and I were going to study in Paris. Our boyfriends came to the docks to see us off. Right as we were getting on the ship, my friend’s boyfriend said to her, ‘If you go, I won’t wait for you.’ So she turned around and decided to stay. My fiancé saw this and told me, ‘I won’t wait for you either.’ I said, ‘Don’t!’”
“When he was dying, I said, ‘Moe, how am I going to live without you?’ He answered, ‘Take the love you have for me, and spread it around.’”
“We met in 1944, and we didn’t like each other. He was in uniform, I was an art student. I called him a fascist. But we met again a few months later when he was on furlough from the army. We were both vacationing at the same dude ranch. I was wearing my father’s suede jacket, because he’d just passed away, and the sleeves were too long for my arms. And without saying a word, he walked up to me and rolled the sleeves back a bit. And I thought it was such a sweet gesture.”
“I was extremely shy when I was younger. I wasn’t asked to the prom or anything. Life didn’t really even start for me until I turned 50. But let’s just say I got plenty of experience after that!”
“She loves life more than anyone I’ve ever known. I hope she doesn’t mind me telling you this, but recently she’s had some health problems. And her health got so bad at one point, she called me and said, ‘I was starting to wonder if there was any reason to go on. But then I had the most delicious pear!’”
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