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“The important thing in life is not what belongs to us, but what we belong to.” —John Wooden

The central idea behind this favorite quote of Coach Wooden’s was that it is not material possessions (what belongs to us) that are important in life but rather what our character is (what we belong to).

Coach expanded on the idea:

Too many of us are concerned with building a reputation or obtaining material possessions. We should be more interested in building character within ourselves. Material possessions can’t bring contentment, peace of mind, happiness or true success.

In addition to Joshua Wooden’s “Two Sets of Three”  (Never Lie, Never Cheat, Never Steal; Don’t Whine, Don’t Complain, Don’t Make Excuses), the core of John Wooden’s character was built on the simple fact that the most important word in our language is love.

For John Wooden, this translated to a life focused on what he could do to help others, not on building a reputation or obtaining material possessions.

Motivational speaker and author Tony Robbins interviewed Coach Wooden and asked, “Coach, I have interviewed several wealthy people who are not all that happy. What advice would you give them?”

Coach’s response was simple: “They should find somebody to help.”

In his book Wooden, Coach commented on why he believed people were unhappy:

It is my observation that the primary cause of unhappiness for most people is simply wanting too much: expecting too much materially, chasing the dollar, overemphasizing the material things. When they don’t arrive, unhappiness does.

“Do not run after happiness, but seek to do good, and you will find that happiness will run after you.” —James Freeman Clarke

Photo by GaudiLab/

Craig Impelman
As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.