My 10 Rules for Life

Here, on iPersonic the subject of happiness in all its facets is obviously always on my mind, including the question whether there is something like a “universal formula” for being happy. Those readers who have already dealt with their personality type a little more extensively (and maybe have even read the LifeCoach for their type) already know that THE universal formula for a happy life just does not exist. Personal ambitions, aspirations and needs of various personality types are much too different. For instance, something that would make an extrovert happy could well be extraordinarily stressful for an introvert and vice versa. With this understood, every person must decide for him/herself which are the building blocks for his/her personal road to happiness.
Nonetheless a handful (to be specific: two handfuls, because there are actually ten) “happiness building blocks” one could rightfully describe as a helpful guideline for everyone regardless of personality type, nationality, gender or age, do exist. If one can manage to turn these ten building blocks into the foundation of one’s thinking and behavior, one can “construct” a very happy life. Since I consider them to be fundamentally important, I would like to designate them to be my very own 10 rules for life. Here they are, at first all together and then individually:

My 10 Rules for Life

  1. I respect all life.
  2. I am grateful.
  3. I can accept help.
  4. I am open to everything new.
  5. I take care of my body.
  6. I enjoy life.
  7. I help others.
  8. I strive for inner peace.
  9. I love and am being loved.
  10. I am one with the entire world.

First Rule: I respect all life

This is the first so to speak, because it represents the most important cornerstone: Respect of life in all its variations. The never-ending amazement, wonder and admiration at the existence of any life in the universe. The question, why is there anything at all rather than nothing at all is one of the fundamental questions of occidental metaphysics. Not one of the countless humanities scholars and natural scientists who have dealt with this question for thousands of years has been able to come up with the final answer. We humans probably never will. That alone ought to be sufficient grounds not to take life in all its forms for granted or at random. Neither our own life - that deserves to be newly shaped every single day to the best of our abilities and be appreciated in all its diversity – nor the one of the roaster we picked up at the chicken kiosk on the way home. I am not suggesting that you should stop eating fried chicken. Vegetarianism is naturally an option, and probably a good way to practice respect for life. But one can certainly eat meat and have respect for life, nevertheless. On the other hand, there is something one can’t do: without a single thought gorge ourselves every day with cheap meat produced by factory farming and still have a modicum of reverence for life. That simply won’t work.

“I am sorry I had to kill you, little brother. My children are hungry and I needed your meat. Forgive me little brother. I will honor your courage, your strength and your beauty – look! I hang your antlers into this tree; each time I pass, I shall think about you and pay homage to your spirit. I grieve because I had to kill you; forgive me Little Brother. Look, I am smoking this pipe, burn this tobacco in your memory.”

Jimalee Burton or Ho-chee-nee, a Cherokee Squaw wrote this poem dedicated to a killed deer. It represents a perfect reflection of the sentiment reflected in my first Rule of Life, the respect for everything human and without exception for everything else that lives. That is where everything has its beginning.

Second Rule: I am grateful

If anything, gratitude is one of the keys to a happy and content life. In every day life we all too often don’t even consciously take notice of all those great and wonderful things for which we could and should be grateful. Where is it written that waking up today was your statutory right? Or, waking up healthy or, what is even more, even waking up healthy and in a place where you don’t have to fear hunger, war or natural catastrophes? Have you any idea, how many people in this world have not been granted this simple privilege this morning and may never experience it during their lifetime? I would be willing to bet: If you take a closer look at today’s day, in addition to it you are going to discover a whole bunch of things for which you could be grateful – if you would only think about them and not take them for granted.

This awareness is very easy to develop by maintaining a happiness-diary for a specific period of time where you note every evening at three least sources of gratitude for today – from the very small (like the unexpected ray of sunshine during the lunch break) all the way to the exhilaration about the new job. Doing this consequently for some time will eventually positively affect your own perception as well as your life satisfaction; this was even documented scientifically.

Third Rule: I can accept help

An extremely important and by many underrated, at times even seen as a rather negative ability. What a wonder, when these days personal strength and success are seen as the measure of all things. Don’t show any weakness, don’t admit to any vulnerability! Grit the teeth, close the eyes and make it through regardless of the cost! All the while it is unavoidable that during our lives each one of us does encounter obstacles we can’t overcome on our own. Whoever can’t ask for help, is in trouble. Pride, misunderstood vanity, the fear of rejection or simply perfectionism can keep a person from asking for help.

But also a very unhealthy overestimation of our capabilities or exaggerated expectations of ourselves that limit us because we just know that we must and can do everything on our own. Or the erroneous assumption that there is no one “out there” who would actually be able to help, in any case – only because one has had a bad experience at one point or the other or else because one thinks his problem is unique. In the final consequence accepting help still only means: helping oneself. Therefore, accepting help is not an indication of weakness but rather a sign of strength and competence. And a sign of self empathy (which is different than self pity) and of healthy sense of self-caring. All vital components of enduring happiness.

Fourth Rule: I am open for everything new

In many respects we humans are very insecure creatures. For many of us the first reaction to the new and unfamiliar is frequently fear and that instinctively triggers a defensive reaction. That said there is nothing better than a new experience to activate our brain’s happiness system! Curiosity and the willingness to deal with the unknown are essential happiness building blocks; the brain’s pleasure systems are activated when we experience surprising events. When we try something new or experience something that pleasantly surprises us our brain excretes happiness hormones (especially Dopamine). On the other hand, someone who only moves on the beaten track and in life always seeks out the usual, the familiar routine deprives him/herself of this important source for life satisfaction. It was not for nothing that Stephan Lerner once stated: “The opposite of happiness is not un-happiness, it is boredom!” To be continuously searching for something new, consciously creating the opportunity for new experiences, always looking for new challenges is an important secret of happy people.

That starts with “innocuous” trivial things: Ordering an item on a menu in a restaurant that sounds totally unfamiliar. Or maybe instead of purchasing the traditional all-inclusive vacation even getting involved in an adventure trip by only booking the round-trip and organizing everything else on site. From there it advances to life’s more important challenges: Quitting the secure job and finally living the dream of independence that one had secretly dreamt all those years. Signing up for that foreign language course, dance lessons or the fine arts seminar that had been on one’s mind. Naturally, in can happen that an adventure ends up as a flop and one falls flat on one’s face. (But that is exactly the excitement of it all and that, which gets our happiness hormone system into gear – no risk, no fun.) Bottom line, this attitude to life is sure to generate more satisfaction than always the same, secure every day life routine.

Fifth Rule of Life: I take care of my body

This rule of life includes several aspects all targeting one perception: You only have got this one body! It makes sense to treat it well rather than abuse it! For instance: move regularly – evolution has created your body to be active and to be in motion and most of the time rather than being parked in front of the TV or at a desk for hours. Not satisfying this innate need can become really problematic, not only because the lack of movement can lead to physical problems but also because movement is important for the soul. For instance, studies demonstrate that for many people regular endurance training for half an hour three times a week is as effective to fight depression as is medication!

Taking care of one’s body also means: paying attention to its (warning-) signals. Regular medical preventive check-ups are just as much part of it as developing a sense for what the body is attempting to signal. Christian Morgenstern is the author of the saying: “The body is rendering visible the soul‘s mood.” Symptoms such as fatigue, head-, back- or other aches or increased susceptibility to infections can well be clues to suppressed psychological issues as for instance stress, grief, fear, etc. It is important not to simply ignore such signals but perhaps give some thought to potentially necessary changes in one‘s life.

Last but not least the fifth rule of life obviously also includes the part about telling us not to mistreat our body with harmful stuff and bad behavior. Particularly the regular use of all drugs can reduce the number of the brain’s D2-receptors that are the docking stations for the neurotransmitter Dopamine (the already mentioned happiness hormone). That makes the joy of living that much more precarious. However, one can also do damage to one’s body with activities like extreme sports, risk sports, eating disorders, self-injurious behavior, risky sexual behavior, etc. In the case of doubt: please follow the fourth life rule, ask for help and accept it!

Sixth Rule of Life: I enjoy life

These days many people have a real problem to indulge in something and be truly appreciative. The hectic daily routine of our fast-moving time plus the bad habit of multi tasking (quickly, a sandwich is devoured on the way from A to B; a newspaper or a book is perused during the train ride to work and dinner is already accompanied by TV) contributes just as much as the ever present pressure to perform and at times those very pleasure-adverse current beauty ideals. We have forgotten to truly pay attention to our own wishes and needs and to keep a healthy balance between ascesis and overindulgence.

We all too seldom take the time it takes to truly appreciate enjoyable moments. And when we do try, then our inner detractor is all too often already waiting in the wings and denies us permission for a copious enjoyment without regrets. With all this, even the little things during the daily routine offer many enjoyment opportunities. Just take a look around you: Where are those little moments? What is it that you could change to keep creating a little bit of joy? Because those, who only look forward to their next vacation or something out of the ordinary as the source for enjoyment are in sad shape when it comes to the happiness bottom line!

Seventh Rule of Life: I help others

An extremely important perception resulting from happiness research is: When we help others, it’s not just good for them, but especially for ourselves, as well. As the result of a study involving in excess of a thousand persons already in the 90s researchers at the University of Michigan established that those who voluntarily get involved in one way or the other on behalf of others, feel especially good and happy. This apparently even reflects in our life expectancy: The volunteers had a 40% higher chance for a long life than those probands who were unwilling to act on behalf of others!

Those who help others feel needed and give their life meaning. That is a very important happiness contributor for us humans. The sense of being able to make the world just a little bit better, to do something going beyond the perimeter of our very own limited self and considering the awareness of our own finiteness is something we, the creatures endowed with reason urgently need. Being active always reflects more positively on the human happiness bottom line than doing nothing – nature has just not designed us to spend our life hanging about in a hammock!

We feel a lot better when we can create something, when we have the feeling to move and accomplish something. After all, that activates the already abundantly familiar brain’s reward system for the excretion of happiness hormones. Spending an afternoon scrubbing the cat enclosures in the animal shelter, shopping for the sick neighbor or volunteering for the elementary school homework supervision is a lot more satisfying than sitting on the couch and watching another repetition of some sappy TV series. Not to forget the frequent incentive of volunteering; being together with other nice folks committed to the same objectives. Another very important happiness factor!

Eighth Rule of Life: I strive for inner peace

For a good reason this rule of life is somewhat “softer” formulated than the others. Inner peace as a goal, although desirable in this life, is admittedly a lot harder to achieve than the other nine mentioned goals. At least permanently and sustainably. People like the Dalai Lama are clearly quite close to attaining this goal however, I dare to suggest that even the most serene and enlightened Tibetan monk has his dark moments when he is at odds with one or the other aspect of the human existence. And how much more does that apply to us, the average consumers in the depths of our every day life! For most of us it would probably be simply presumptuous to completely, permanently and sustainably attain inner peace. But then: Goethe has the angels in Faust sing: “We can save those who strive and struggle” – striving on its own is already a good thing. That also applied to matters of inner peace.

It is difficult if not impossible to provide a universal formula for striving for inner peace. After all, in every human life there are different elements that can counter act this inner peace and therefore the means to come to terms differ accordingly. Nevertheless, there are two aspects I want to mention because they can probably help everybody in one way or the other:

First of all, a very important prerequisite for satisfaction and happiness in life is coming to terms and accepting one’s own history and past for what it is. By “hanging on” to past negative experiences, by being unable to forgive grievances or permanently being at odds with events during one’s own history, one deprives oneself of vital energy and blocks one’s very own development. Only those who manage to let go of those negative experiences, to free themselves in order to assume the responsibility for their own life in the here and now (instead of pushing it off on others and other events in the past) will be able to develop the energy for living a positive life.

Secondly, meditation is a very good means. It has been proven that meditation activates and trains the left frontal lobe - the more dominant it becomes, the better one can deal with negative experiences and the happier one feels. Taming the “Monkey Mind” – the spirit that jumps from one thought to the next like a monkey from tree to tree – is a great way to work on one’s inner peace. Those who don’t appreciate meditation in its classic form can always try a more physical technique like Tai Chi or Qi-Gong.

Ninth Rule of Life: I love and am being loved

For us humans the feeling of loving and being loved is probably the most important happiness delivery system, period. After all, we are by nature “zoon politicon”, a social creature. We instinctively long for feeling connected to others, giving love, affection and esteem and receive all of that in return. Therefore family, friends and life partners are our most precious possessions (even though they sometimes can really get on our nerves). A person who feels lonely statistically faces a doubled risk of dying during the next year. Loneliness hurts health as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or the abuse of alcohol and even more strongly than being overweight or the absence of exercise. Conversely positive social contacts act stress reducing, health benefitting and clearly live prolonging.

By the way, according to research results on this subject, virtual contacts are no substitute for a real life social network. 439 friends on Facebook don't advance your happiness bottom line by 439 points. Love creating happiness must have been experienced in real life . . .

Tenth Rule of Life: I am one with the entire world

We are our own biggest obstacle on the road to happiness. Or better put: our Self. I am referring to this “Self” that we carry ahead of us in our western culture like in a procession. Suddenly my “Self” has a market value that I can increase with Ego-marketing and Ego-branding. Maybe I also earn my living as “self-employed” or I try to optimally position myself in the partner market. Anyway, our thoughts continuously are occupied with this “Self” and how it can be navigated as meaningfully and lucratively through its lifetime. The constant challenge is dealing with society’s and the economy’s expectations of this “Self”. I sense the feeling to be in charge of my person and in the final essence am still being controlled by my person. To say it with Erich Fromm:

“My property, that, after all am I. Everything I own including my knowledge, my body, my memory represents my Self. My Self becomes a “Self” attaching itself to my person like a thing, a property. A person who feels this way is in reality his/her own prisoner, locked up and inevitably filled with fear and without happiness. In order to attain a real feeling of Self, he/she must break out of his person. He/she cannot continue to see him/herself as a thing. He/she must learn to experience him/herself in the process of creatively responding; the inherent paradox is that he/she loses him/herself in this process of experiencing-him/herself. In that case he/she transcendents the limitations of his/her very person and in the moment when he/she has the feeling «I am», he/she also has the feeling «I am one with the entire world».”

Unfortunately there is no prescribed way to the “Process of Creative Responding”. A suitable context may be found in a religion, in the context of philosophy or a specific spiritual orientation. It is important to begin the process. Towards the web of experiencing- and losing oneself. Because this loss offers an immeasurable prize.