5 New Rules for a Happy Life

5 New Rules for a Happy Life October 6, 2022

life tips
Angelo Pantazis via Unsplash

What is the secret to a happy and successful life? It’s a question I’ve often pondered. Fortunately, over the years, I’ve come across the musings of several wise men and women, who have chosen to put their “rules of life” down on paper (or these days, a word doc) and many offer keen insights.

The latest list I uncovered is courtesy of the author Russ Roberts, whose most recent book is Wild Problems: A Guide to the Decisions That Define Us. He is the president of Shalem College in Jerusalem and host of the weekly podcast EcoTalk. (Thanks to Tim Ferriss for bringing Roberts’ list to my attention.)

The thing about these types of lists is that while some rules resonate, others may not, depending on your age and station in life. I look at the lists from the perspective of a middle-aged white male, as is Roberts. But regardless, I think that his ideas have universal appeal. While they may not reveal precise answers, they do point us in the right direction.

Robert’s original list contained 12 points and was titled “My 12 Rules for Life.” I’ve selected my 5 favorites are below, to which I’ve done some light editing and added a few thoughts of my own in italics. Roberts points out that his rules “are easier to list than to live by.” But isn’t that the case for most rules of life? (The complete list can be found here.)

5 New Rules to Live By

Rule 1. Find something healthy to worship

In this case, Roberts quotes part of a commencement speech by the late author David Foster Wallace who Roberts believes “says it well.” It’s about worship and poses the question: Who or what do you worship in life? In DFW’s lightly edited words:

Here’s something that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never feel you have enough. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths. On one level, we all know this stuff already. The whole trick is keeping this truth up front in our daily consciousness.

Rule 2. Make Shabbat

Roberts is Jewish but the point here is that we all need to devote time to escaping from the busyness of our everyday lives, through prayer, meditation, or contemplation—and by coming together with those we love, be they family or close friends.

I keep the Jewish sabbath, also known as shabbat. Shabbat — a 25-hour respite from technology punctuated by prayer and lengthy meals with family and friends — has made our family what it is. Keeping and making shabbat is not easy so if it does not come naturally to your worldview, try keeping a little shabbat — have Friday night dinner with your family and try to keep that as a family rule. Or create some other window in your life without devices where family and friends can talk and laugh.

Rule 3. Know yourself

“Know thyself, and thou shalt know the universe and God” reads the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The prophet Muhammed phrased this as “He who knows himself knows God.” And from the Gnostic Book of Thomas: “Examine yourself and understand who you are…whoever knows self, has acquired the knowledge of the universe.” Different faiths, all with the same message which Roberts highlights below.

At the age of 61, I attended a silent meditation retreat. I learned a lot about myself — my weaknesses, my habits, my blessings. A silent retreat isn’t for everyone, but the introspection it encourages is a really good idea. Find a way to see yourself through the eyes of the world. Be grateful for what you have. Strive to improve. Understand the narratives you operate under that unconsciously push your buttons and drive some of your responses. All of this is easier if you are self-aware. So find a way to know yourself — reading, therapy, meditation, religion, all can help. You could almost certainly be more humble. Start there.

Rule 4. Hold your anger for a day

 The moral of this life tip: Think before you act. This applies to anger—but also to many other spontaneous choices we may be tempted to make in life.

After receiving news of some military setback or failure, Abraham Lincoln would write a letter to the offending general and put it in a drawer for a day to see how he felt the next day. If memory serves, he never sent them. In the calm following a night’s sleep, Lincoln regretted what he had written. If something riles you up, wait a day before responding either in person or in an email. Usually, like Lincoln, you’ll think better of it. Sometimes anger just feels good, I get it. But it is rarely if ever helpful to others or to yourself. Passion is a virtue, not anger. And if you get angry anyway, try to hold it for a day before responding.

Rule 5. Be kind — everyone is in a battle

According to Wikipedia, while this quote is often attributed to Plato, it came from the English author and minister John Watson who wrote under the penname Ian McLaren. Roberts expands on it here:

We go through life judging others. It can be a seductive drug to make us feel important or special. Harsh judgments can be used to justify or excuse rudeness and can allow us to dismiss others as our inferiors. All judgments are incomplete. We never know the full story. So be kind. Cut those around you much slack. It is hard getting through life. Others look like they are skating effortlessly but they, like you and me, struggle with all kinds of things that are concealed. So be kind. Don’t bear a grudge. Don’t keep score. Give people around you the benefit of the doubt. Wag more, bark less. You will be happier for it and the people around you will enjoy your company all the more.

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