Choices That Change Lives: 15 Ways to Find More Purpose, Meaning, and Joy


Hal Urban, author of the much-loved bestsellers Life's Greatest Lessons and Positive Words, Powerful Results, gives us his third book of inspirational and practical wisdom on leading a more meaningful and more joyful life. With Choices That Change Lives, Hal reminds us that our lives are the result of our choices and the most important choices we make become our character traits, the ones that lead to fulfillment and peace of mind. He illuminates fifteen character traits that help us more fully develop our ...

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Choices That Change Lives: 15 Ways to Find More Purpose, Meaning, and Joy

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Hal Urban, author of the much-loved bestsellers Life's Greatest Lessons and Positive Words, Powerful Results, gives us his third book of inspirational and practical wisdom on leading a more meaningful and more joyful life. With Choices That Change Lives, Hal reminds us that our lives are the result of our choices and the most important choices we make become our character traits, the ones that lead to fulfillment and peace of mind. He illuminates fifteen character traits that help us more fully develop our capacity to live rich and rewarding lives. He assures us that it's never too late to change, to break the chains of self-defeating attitudes and habits, and challenges us to dig a little deeper — to grow in such qualities as humility, patience, empathy, and courage — and to renew ourselves daily.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Some readers will cherish Hal Urban's new book for the basic truths it shares, some for the perfectly selected quotations, but all who read it will be enriched by it." — Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People

"In Choices That Change Lives, Hal Urban expresses the conviction that we can be better, happier, and wiser at any time we choose, and goes on to provide support and inspiration for this important endeavor. Thank you, Hal!" — Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One-Minute Manager® and The Secret

"Do you love inspiring quotations? Enjoy a story that both enlightens and entertains? Want to improve your character? Hope to deepen your prayer life? Hal Urban's Choices That Change Lives delivers all this and more. Keep it at your bedside; it's food for the soul." — Thomas Lickona, author of Character Matters

Library Journal
These three books follow the popular "point" formula for life change but are written from different vantage points and geared toward different audiences. Cohen, a speaker and author of 20 inspirational books, offers ten common reasons for why maladaptive thinking saps people's energy and undermines the quality of their lives. With evangelical zeal, he takes readers to task for such behaviors as trying to fix other people, getting fooled by appearances, and forgetting to enjoy the ride. If you don't tire of Cohen's overconfident tone and overuse of the word suck, there's good advice to be found here. Pinkins, a Tony Award-winning actress and acting instructor, has taken the principles that helped her succeed despite tremendous obstacles and organized them into self-knowledge exercises and daily disciplines. The book is full of questionnaires and charts to help readers "discern" what they need to learn, "discover" what they really want, and "de-install" hot buttons. Chapters on disciplines include instructions for magnetizing one's good and making success inevitable. Pinkins's tough-love style will have a mixed reception, and not helping matters is her reliance on acronyms and diagrams. Teens, more so than adults, may find the book helpful. Urban (Life's Greatest Lessons) takes a different tack and highlights 15 areas of focus that can help anyone realize a more satisfying life. In the chapter about forgiveness, for example, the author explains how that act can be learned, providing life stories of people who have changed their lives by forgiving. Rather than act like an overzealous cheerleader, Urban uses a soft sell to make his points; his easy-to-read book is a refreshing change from the pack. Recommended for all libraries. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743257701
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 12/27/2005
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 794,284
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.44 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Hal Urban was a high school teacher for many years and also taught at the University of San Francisco. He is a well-known leader in the Character Education movement and is in constant demand as a speaker at national conferences and school and community events. He raised three sons as a single father and now lives in Redwood City, California, with his wife, Cathy.

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Read an Excerpt




"We live by choice, not by chance" is the title of chapter four in Life's Greatest Lessons. We considered using it as the title of this book because of the impact this simple truth had on so many readers. I recall vividly that while I was on a media tour for the book in January 2003, virtually every TV and radio host wanted to talk about the "choices chapter" first. You would have thought that I'd made some startling discovery that was going to dramatically change millions of lives. But the truth is that choices have been around for as long as humans have. It's truly amazing how many people are either unaware, or forget, that they're making choices almost all of the time — little ones that are unimportant, and big ones that can change our lives for good or for bad. This book is about some of those big choices.

I explained in my first book that I was educated by the Jesuits at the University of San Francisco. If you're unfamiliar with the Jesuits, they can probably best be described as a teaching order of Catholic priests, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola, who place great emphasis on philosophy, logic, ethics, and the free will. This is where I first learned the importance of living by choice. Rather than create us as mere puppets without a mind of our own, God gave us our greatest gift — the free will, or the power to choose. It's one of those great lessons that you never forget.

That great lesson was reinforced several years later when I discovered a marvelous little book that's now considered by many to be a classic. It's called Your Greatest Power, and was written in 1953 by J. Martin Kohe. The book opens with this sentence:



A little further down the first page, Kohe points out that most people live in total unawareness of it:

Millions of people are complaining about their lot, disgusted with life...and the way things are going, not realizing that there is a power which they possess which will permit them to take a new lease on life. Once you recognize this power and begin to use it, you can change your entire life and make it the way you would like to have it...filled with joy.

Kohe points out that the most amazing thing about this power is that it's accessible to everyone, regardless of age or position in life. It doesn't require intelligence, education, achievement, or special talents. It's given to all of us at birth. All we need to do is recognize it. What is this great power? Kohe answers this question on page nine:




Whether you refer to it as "free will" as the Jesuits do, or "your greatest power" as Kohe does, it's a fact of life: We really do live by choice, not by chance. In that first book I listed nine principal choices we make: our character, our values, how we treat others, how we handle adversity, how much we'll learn, what we'll accomplish, our belief system, our purpose, and our attitude. While these are important, there are many other choices we make daily that also help determine the quality of our lives. I want to share fifteen of those choices with you in this book.

There are alternatives. Options. We cannot choose not to choose.



In the introduction to Life's Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter, I asked the question, "Why 20?" There was no profound reason, and I never claimed that they were the only great lessons life teaches us. They were simply some of the most basic truths about how life works that I wanted to pass on to my sons and to my students. What had begun as a letter to them eventually became a book for kids, then a book for people of all ages. Apparently, a lot of adults appreciated being reminded about the importance of good character and what I called "old-fashioned goodness."

When I wrote the original table of contents it had thirty life lessons, and I knew there were actually many more than that. But the book would have been too long, so I pared it down to the essentials. Some of those essentials are a good attitude, respect, hard work, self-discipline, kindness, honesty, laughter, and thankfulness. Now thirteen years have passed, and those ten great lessons that I left out remain as unfinished business. In addition, I've learned a few more (some very painfully) that I'd also like to pass along. The lessons in this book are a little different. They're not as basic or obvious as the original twenty. They might be described as the ones we learn as we progress through the higher grades in the school of life. Some of these new lessons are also more challenging. We learn about virtues like humility, patience, forgiveness, empathy, and giving at a greater cost — the sacrifice of self. But when mastered, these and the other lessons included here bring even greater joy and deeper meaning to our lives.


There are no words in any language that could adequately express the depth of my appreciation for the hundreds of people who've written, called, and e-mailed me after reading both Life's Greatest Lessons and Positive Words, Powerful Results. They've thanked me, shared their own insights and valuable lessons, made suggestions, sent me quotes and poems, pointed out useful books and websites, made me both laugh and cry, and have affirmed and encouraged me. It's because of this encouragement that I went from being a self-published author to a Simon & Schuster author with a much wider audience. These wonderful people have also urged me to continue to "preach the gospel" of good character and to continue writing. These additional life lessons are for them.


I spent thirty-five wonderful years being a teacher both in a high school and in a university. Though I left the classroom, I never wanted to stop teaching or, for that matter, learning. Fortunately, I'm now a traveling teacher, and my students include other teachers, kids of all ages, parents, business people, and members of churches. I still get to teach, but I don't have to correct papers, turn in grades, or attend faculty meetings.

The biggest change, though, is that I'm no longer required to do what teachers spend most of their time doing — preparing lesson plans. But old habits are hard to break. I continue to write new lessons simply because there's so much to be learned and to be passed on. It's what a teacher does. For several years I've been writing these lessons in a journal and other notebooks in the hope of eventually sharing them with others. Many teachers (from elementary school through college) who've been using my first book have asked me if there would be more great lessons. Now there are.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his brilliant book When All You Ever Wanted Isn't Enough, says that we are all teachers:

We all teach, officially and unofficially, not only the classroom teacher or college professor addressing a group of students, but the experienced bookkeeper or factory worker passing tips on to the new arrival, because having an impact on another person, shaping his or her life in some small but vital way, is one of the most enduring satisfactions we will know. We teach because we need to share.

Please join me and my fellow teachers in our efforts to make a positive impact while passing on more of the great lessons of life.


The first title I thought of for this book was "Wisdom Is Earned." It was to be about more life lessons that lead to life's ultimate prize. But my publisher and editor weren't as keen on it as I was, for a variety of reasons. Because they know much more than I do about what works and what doesn't in the book industry, I listen to them. We changed the key word in the title from "wisdom" to "choices," and gave the book a more upbeat tone. The next-to-last chapter here is about wisdom, and I'm convinced that if we make the right choices we can attain it.

For many years I thought wisdom was the result of a natural process: We get older, we get wiser. While there's an element of truth to this common belief, it's far from the entire story. Not all elderly people are wise, and some young people are wise beyond their years. Real wisdom is understanding how life works and living it well, regardless of age.

I wrote Life's Greatest Lessons the year I turned fifty. A lot of nice people read it, wrote to me, and told me I was wise. But I didn't feel wise. I thought the book was based mostly on common sense. Although related, there's a big difference between common sense and wisdom. There's also a difference between success (the topic of that first book) and making choices that help us increase in wisdom (the topic of this book). I was feeling reasonably successful, but not nearly as wise as other people thought I was, and not nearly as wise as I wanted to be.

A great friend told me several years ago that if he could be granted one wish he would ask for wisdom. I thought he was one of the wisest persons I knew, so his comment intrigued me. It also started me on a ten-year exploration of the sources of wisdom. It involved reading books written by and about wise people of the past and present, and talking and listening to all the wise people I could find. It also involved ten more years of living, making mistakes, and growing. In all, it was a great period of learning that I'm now pleased to share with others. I think all of us want to grow in wisdom.

Wisdom is the result when we learn to make better choices.

— Erwin G. Hall

Copyright ©2006 by Hal Urban

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