Gretchen Rubin discusses her 12 Personal Commandments at length between her podcast and her book, Happier. I’ve always believed in the importance of having core beliefs that direct how you view the world. For example, I believe people are inherently good and that Iowans are bad drivers.
Personal Commandments are directives based on your core beliefs. Having simple approaches to a life philosophy helps you shape your life in an authentic manner. Here are a few personal commandments I’ve adopted–rather slowly and organically, over my years.
Assume positive intent.
I adopted this philosophy in between two Thanksgivings spent with a woman who may be the most miserable person I’ve ever meant. The first Thanksgiving, I found myself hiding out, away from her malicious, passive aggressive comments and upfront rudeness. I found myself complaining to others about how horrible this woman was, letting her negativity infect me.
The second Thanksgiving, I took every mean-toned, passive aggressive comment at face value. When she asked questions meant to insinuate that I didn’t belong there, I answered her sincerely. In this particular situation, I highly doubt my actions made any difference to her attitude. But it did make a difference in how I felt and reacted and dramatically improved my experience that Thanksgiving.
This life philosophy is hardest to embrace when you know with certainty that someone does not have positive intent or when someone may have positive intent, but their actions are still hurtful. You still have the power to control your reactions to hurt and insult caused by someone’s intentional or unintentional actions.
Live the bigger life.
This is one of my favorites from Gretchen Rubin. She says if you have two options to decide between, choose the one that will give you the bigger life. I love the way this personal commandment is customizable to the situation. The bigger life might be more adventurous or more freeing or more responsibility. It might mean facing fear of the unknown. It might mean ascending a corporate ladder or it might mean choosing the best work/life balance. Asking yourself if a decision will give you a “bigger” life is a great way to expand your happiness.
Change your circumstance or change yourself.
If you’re unhappy with your situation, you have two options: Learn to be happy in your situation or work to change it. Few things are worse than listening to someone complain about something they have complete control over. The problem is that to change the unhappy circumstance often takes work. It’s hard to leave a partner who doesn’t treat you well, to find a new job, to readjust your sleep schedule, etc. Sometimes the thing we complain about will take time to change. In which case, figure out how to get out of that situations, but also work on finding contentment in your current state. Channeling negativity and frustration only invites more negativity and frustration.
You can’t take it with you.
This is such a preachy and obnoxious axiom, coming from some people. My interest in minimalism moved toward an interest in saving. And while it’s fun to watch your bank account increase, it’s less fun to realize you’re doing so at the sake of your life. This is not a reckless life philosophy. It does not encourage you to stop looking toward the future. It just encourages you to think a little harder about material goods while also remembering that the money you save on those material goods isn’t doing much for you in the bank. So save for retirement. But travel while you’re young.
One of my absolute favorite quotes is: Ships in harbor are safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. Too often we let fear of the unknown–of the wide open ocean in the metaphor of our life’s journey–keep us from setting sail. It’s hard to leave the familiar, the comfortable. But it’s almost always worth it. I recently scandalized someone by telling him that I have a tendency to hold my excitement in so closely–because I’m afraid of how excited I am about a big unknown–that I can make myself sick. To be fair, maybe that’s more personal information than you want to reveal early on. Staying in the comfortable familiar is my biggest fault. It’s hard to leave something you enjoy for the unknown possibility of something you might love.
Don’t chase people who wouldn’t chase you.
This sounds like relationship advice, doesn’t it? Psych! It’s friendship advice. (And since most great romantic relationships have a strong component of friendship in them, I guess it’s both.)
When my dad was dying in the hospital, I had friends who never saw me or visited me despite my requests to do so. When I was so crippled with anxiety and depression that I was hiding in my dorm room watching Lifetime movies, I had friends who told me it was too much of a bummer to be with me, even when I tried to explain what I was going through. When I was trying to connect with new friend groups, I would go out of my way to make people feel welcome and invited who would insult me to my face. It’s difficult to give up on the desire to be liked and wanted. But it’s so much healthier. You can be friendly and genuine and warm and still rub people the wrong way. Don’t mistake this for an arrogance allowing you to do whatever you want. Just don’t burn yourself to keep other people warm. Especially people who would toss you in the fire if they felt vaguely chilly.
Do you have a life philosophy that guides your day-to-day? Let me know below.