My 9 Commandments for Life
As I am writing this, I am reading currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Not because I am particularly unfortunate on unhappy with my current state or situation. Let's just say I am content, and I often fall victim to the fallacy of thinking the grass is greener on the other side.
In The Happiness Project, Rubin talks about 12 Commandments she use to guide her actions. She too is an avid reader and got most of them from her own studies in Happiness, for writing the books. I am normally very hard on myself of coming up with my own set of ideas, because I feel like I would be leeching on someone else's insights if I just copy pasted theirs. But Rubin offers a nice middle-way which you can call cherry picking. She doesn't follow one doctrine of happiness, but take what she can use, and what best apply to her life out of all the principles she have read.
So that is what I am doing here: collecting the principles out of all the books I have read.
1. Turn Negative into Positive
In speech I usually refer to it as the Silver Lining Rule: Every Circumstance Represent an Opportunity.
I have written about this before, because it struck me as one of the truest insights I've ever come across, which I think goes mostly unnoticed by a lot of people. I first stumbled upon this insight when reading Epictetus' Of Human Freedom, I got that sensation of something falling into place inside my mind - I remember it very vividly. And once it clicked, I began to see it everywhere. The Dalai Lama call it Changing Perspective. It is mentioned in Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
2. Be the Best Version of Yourself
Or The Isabella Principle: What is there to be mad about really?
Named after a friend of mine who never miss a beat to help anyone. She spend a day of from work to help me when I was moving, and she was the first to response when I had trouble on a travel, quickly fixing the documents I needed. The advice came from my mom, when I asked her how to dazzle girls. I think about it now and then, I unfairly treat someone I care about in a mean spirited way. I have a bad tendency to be a bit harsh on the people close to me, ironically. Yet, I more rarely actually tell them how great they are and how much I appreciate them. People enjoy you more if you speak your mind about their good qualities, than their shortcomings.
In Thank You For Being Late, Friedman explains that the Golden Rule Do to others what you want to have them do to you, should be much more widespread, and we should all practice it. But, Isabella is not helpful or nice because she wants me to be nice. She does it, because she wants to be nice, regardless of my character, and I think that genuinety is very strong.
3. Do it the Best it can be Done
The No Cutting Corners Rule: Don't lift with you back.
I cannot remember where I got this from, but it is something I am trying to do. I am very guilty of instinctively cutting corners. Then I started working out. I had terrible form, but I thought that was the easiest way to lift weights. If I had not had a friend that was a certified personal trainer I would have completely destroyed my body. The idea of doing everything, not just the best I could do it, but the best that it could be done is something I want to transcend from workouts to other parts of my life.
4. There is Nothing but Compassion
The Love Rule: Compassion is happiness
As you begin to read stoic literature, you begin to understand that material possessions cannot bring you happiness. Check. Starting to read more spiritual books such as The Art of Happiness, The Prophet, and Siddhartha, you begin to realize that love and compassion, might be the answer to happiness. (Sidenote: After reading The Art of Happiness, I did the exercises and even added my own by telling strangers on the street that I love them (in my head).
I read How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, an it affected me a lot in the way it was written. I pick it for the title, and I accepted the weird writing style for a How to-business book. But after all the success, the fuzz, the commotion, he ends up as an old man with the girl he liked when he was a child. All the time he spend on what in hindsight seem insignificant - success, wealth, reputation - becomes meaningless when you are facing death. His success was driven by greed and insecurity, not happiness and a need for helping others.
I wrote a bedtime story called Wind & Sun to illustrate this point.
5. Do the Most Important Thing Now
The Priority Principle: Do only the thing what matters most, and forget the rest.
We always know what we are supposed to do, what we should do, but too often we avoid it, and it becomes a dark cloud. Get it out of the way immediately. Not to fool yourself, you can ask the focusing question described in the book The One Thing.
What is the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
I try to do this when my to-do list gets too long. I like to just pile stuff on there, aiming to cover everything I could do so I have all my options available. More often I need to do things now.
6. Act the Way you Want to Feel
The Amplification Principle: The more you feel, the more you can feel.
This is stolen directly from Rubin, because it is a principle many of us have heard of in some Buzzfeed article and then completely forgotten about. But if we act like we are happier, more energetic, more confident, our mind will often assume that is the case. Rationally, we might know better, but our subconscious will not be able to do the distinction if we really put our mind to it.
It also works the other way. In Outliers (I think ...?) Gladwell explains that a study showed that students who were exposed to pictures of elderly people in a test, moved slower back to class than people who were shown young people.
7. Focus on that which Makes you Happy
The Happy Root Rule: Ask yourself if this will make you happy.
It is easy to focus on the things that are nagging us. It is lick a scratch in the roof of your mouth, that would heal if you would just stop licking it. So I want to focus on the work, on the people and on the activities that bring energy and growth to my life. In the past I have been very good at assigning myself tedious work.
Once in pre-school, I had just gotten a video camera for my birthday. But I got stressed because I had so many ideas I wanted to execute on. I told one of my friend that I felt so stressed because I had started all of these projects, and he just asked why?
I need to ask myself why I am doing what I am doing, and if it is bringing me fun, joy or happiness. I will not let myself be obligated to task I don't feel like doing. If there is something, like doing laundry, I need to find a way to make it interesting e.g. listening to an audio book.
8. Don't Wait for Better Circumstances
Dance in the Rain Principle: There will never come a better time, so do it now.
In the summer of 2015 I was a little blue. I had quite my corporate job to pursue a movie career, but it didn't pan out as I hoped it would. One day I talked with my girlfriend (maybe more to my girlfriend) about how I wanted to someday do all these things, and how it could make me a lot of money, but the time wasn't right - I wasn't ready yet. My girlfriend got sick of it, and said Sebastian, you are always talking about all these things, but you never do it - just do it already. I got pretty grumpy because I thought I had taken a big leap leaving my job at an agency to pursue my dream.
But as a few days went by, her words still rang in my ears. Two months later, I stepped out of an airplane in Panama, where I lived for 6 months.
Rubin included a variety in this principle including do it now in her Happiness Project.
9. If you are in doubt, you are not in doubt
The Fuck Yeah Rule: If you are in doubt, you are not in doubt.
I once got a job offer, with a little less pay, but with stock-option and a management role. I would not be a salesman for a SaaS company anymore, but a CMO of an investment fund start-up. I trusted my current boss a lot, and called him to get his advice. Without hesitation, he congratulated me and told me it was a huge opportunity for me. I told him I was in doubt, and silence came over the phone. Then he said, If you are in doubt, you are not in doubt. The offer wasn't a Fuck Yeah let's do this moment, and the reason I considered the offer to begin with was because I was secretly flattered by it.
I really enjoyed reading The Happiness Project as it is more a narrative on Rubin's own journey, than it is a doctrine. She shows you her way, and emphasises that your Happiness Project might look very different. Let's say this was my first step.
I might change or add new ones to some of these principles, but for now, these are the ones I want as guiding principles for my life as it is right now.