Every year, I spend a few weeks after New Year’s reflecting on the past year and how things went: what did I accomplish? How did I feel? Did I help my family, friends, and associates with the goals they wanted to achieve? Did I leave my part of the world a better place than I found it? I also spend some time looking at the year ahead: what do I want to accomplish? How do I want to feel? What plans do I have to help others and make the world a better place, in whatever small way I can make that happen?
As part of that annual exercise, I update my “rules for living well,” the maxims I’ve come up with over the years that help me stay on track in my ongoing effort to live a good life. The list has grown over time, as I’ve learned more about myself and what I want my life to be; these fourteen rules, if I follow most of them most of the time, really help me create a good life every day, full of meaning and joy. I’m sharing the latest version of my list with you here; please feel free to use the rules that make sense to you, discard the ones that don’t, and add ones that you think are missing, editing along the way. Just having a list is extremely helpful: it’s a way of reminding myself, especially when things get dicey, that I already know how to live a good life – I just need to get back to following the rules.
A quick note before you get started: these rules often refer to specific habits (like my daily meditation practice) or characteristics (like my character strengths) that are unique to me; you’ll need to amend those to fit your own unique situation. The notes below the list refer to some additional resources you might find useful.
- Treat everyone (including yourself) as if they are good, valuable, worthwhile, important, lovable, deserving, and strong; be kind and helpful to others wherever and whenever possible.
- Be curious, not furious; curiosity is your number-one character strength (your top 5 VIA character strengths are curiosity, humor, love, love of learning, and perseverance, so try to use them as much as possible!), and it can be a powerful tool to avoid reacting out of anger or fear: ask why that person (or situation) is the way they (or it) is, take a pause, and think before reacting.
- Learn from the past, but don’t ruminate or dwell on it – use it as a resource, not as a burden that stops you from enjoying life now and creating a better life going forward.
- Use humor as a tool to soften the world’s impact on yourself, and on others: deflect criticism or anger with humor; use humor to defuse a tense situation; use humor as a tool for deeper understanding.
- Arise early, stick to your morning routine (Transcendental Meditation for 25 minutes, language learning, gratitudes, and review of the day ahead), and begin every day in a positive, upbeat manner; remember, a good life is built one day at a time.
- Get exercise of some kind every day, mixing it up between aerobics, strength-training, and stretching/mobility. Preferably this should be outdoors, to get the benefits of sunlight, fresh air, and exposure to nature and natural beauty.
- Eat well and moderately, drink alcohol in moderation, drink 8 glasses (8oz) of water every day, and get 8 hours of sleep every night.
- Maintain your relationships: stay in touch with good friends, old friends, family, and business associates, and maintain those relationships that are positive, helpful, and growing – and jettison those relationships that are not. Especially, help my wife and kids to continue to grow and thrive, every day.
- Always learn at least one new thing every day, and use your VIA character strengths (especially curiosity and love of learning) to continue to make learning a life-long passion.
- Make music every day: whether it is playing piano, or singing, or writing a song, spend at least 30 minutes every day creating joy for yourself through something you absolutely love doing.
- Be gritty: persevere, don’t take anything personally, be tough (but kind), don’t give up if you’re really committed to the outcome.
- Remember that saying “yes” also means saying “no:” be jealous of your time, and make sure you are not taking on anything that is trivial, or that someone else could do better, or that you don’t really enjoy, or that is not the best use of your time.
- Focus on your big “why” and remember that the “how” will follow – don’t get frustrated by setbacks, just be patient, keep going, and keep the big picture in focus. Ultimately, the meaning of your life is determined by you, but a big part of that meaning will in the end be about how much you helped other people, in ways large and small. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”
- Finally, remember to take it easy and have some fun; life is pretty absurd and no one gets out alive, so enjoy the ride while you’re still here.
- The VIA character assessment is available at https://www.viacharacter.org/; my own top 5 strengths, in order, are curiosity, humor, love, love of learning, and perseverance.
- Personality profiles are often helpful in figuring out what you enjoy and why you act (or react) the way you do; Meyers-Briggs is an oldie but a goodie (my Meyers-Briggs type is ENTJ, “Commander:” https://www.16personalities.com/entj-personality), but there are many others, such as Kolbe (my Kolbe scores are 8372; see http://paulkortman.com/2013/11/19/laymens-guide-kolbe-score/; I’m high on Fact Finding (8) and Quick Start (7), low on Follow Through (3 – I like to improvise and adapt) and on Implementor (2 – I visualize things very well, and tend to create more conceptual than physical solutions to problems).