Not to be mistaken for “how to live a good life.” I am not equipped to define what a Good Life even is, let alone dispense any type of advice for getting there. Simply put, these are personal rules for improving life incrementally.
Progress is made by accumulation, not random bursts.
1. Your life gives meaning to your death, not the other way around
It does not matter how or when you die. It’s going to happen no matter what (barring something hideous or miraculous). Whether on a battlefield or in a hospital bed or under the wheels of a bus, your means of leaving won’t suddenly provide clarity on the so-many-years leading up to the fateful moment. It’s how all of those years are spent.
Death can be a punctuation mark, but it is not the sentence.
Remember, no one at your funeral will be talking about how you died — they’ll be talking about how you lived. So try not to dwell on death’s certainty any more than you dwell on summer ten years from now. It’s coming whether you’re ready or not, so be ready.
2. Love yourself
No one spends more time with you than you. You should be working to make sure you’re the type of person you get along with; the kind of guy you could get a beer with.
Not all of us are there. It takes work. The good thing is, that work pays dividends.
Be good to yourself, just like you would be to any other person you love. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that picks up as it goes like a katamari. The more it grows, the easier it becomes — to love yourself, and to love others. And that, too, grows.
3. Remove negative influences
Anything in your life that leads you to make poor decisions: alcohol; bad friends; an unproductive job. Many of these things form the opposite type of feedback loop at the point above. Bad influences beget bad choices. Bad choices open the door for lower self-esteem, which keeps the door open for the bad influences.
Separate yourself from the things that end up doing you harm.
4. Kill your bad habits, replace them with good ones
Go to the bar less; join a club. Quit smoking; go on walks. Cut down on video games, pick up a physical hobby.
We only have so much time here. Might as well use it the best way you can.
5. Say “yes” more
Years ago, I told myself that when I was ever asked to do something, I would say yes. Even if I didn’t want to do it, even if I’d rather pull out my own fingernails, I would say yes. (Unless I’d already said yes to something else.)
Since then, I think I can count on my hands the times I’ve said “no” to doing something. I’ve met more people, made more friends, experienced so many new things, grown so much as a person. I got jobs, moved, learned new skills that got me better jobs. I finally changed my name.
Saying “yes” made these things possible.
6. Judge not
This isn’t a “warts-and-all” thing. When you’re dealing with an asshole, it’s important to let them know that they are behaving in a destructive or unproductive way. Maybe not in so many words—there are productive ways to do this. That’s a topic for another time.
Really this is about accepting people, not jumping to conclusions, and doing your best to follow the Golden Rule. It’s Gold for a reason. Of all the Rules you could follow, this one definitely gives you the best mileage.
Even when someone is an asshole, or even if they’re just very strange or different from you, they are still a person, and still deserve love.
7. Embrace the absurd
We were all born into a life we didn’t ask for, and just as we get to like it here we learn that we’ll also have to die whether we want to or not. Do not let your life be a tragedy—which at its core is borne of the material and of our attachment to it. Instead, make it a comedy: inexhaustible joy for life, that it continues even after us, that we were blessed to be here at all.
8. Remember, there are no guilty pleasures — just pleasures
Anyone who tries to make you feel bad for liking something is really just insecure and mean. Don’t listen. If you like something, you like it. Don’t feel bad for the things you enjoy.
And don’t ignore or forsake the things that bring you joy. To paraphrase the Talmud: Everyone will be called to account for all the legitimate pleasures which he or she has failed to enjoy.
9. Make memories and record them
Do things that make cherished memories, and record them because memories will eventually fail us. Take pictures, take videos, write a journal. We carry with us in our pockets the ultimate tool for all three of these things and more. Our text messages to each other and our voicemails—which can be automatically transcribed and texted to us—can serve as documentation. Save the good bits. Save the pictures. You’ll thank yourself later.
10. Learn to forgive
The Buddha compared anger to holding onto a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone.
Forgiveness isn’t about letting someone off the hook. It’s about freeing yourself from the negative feelings they caused, and moving on to a healthier and happier life. Dwelling on the pain, holding onto that hot coal, hurts you more than it hurts them. Forgiveness is really a tool for self-healing; not for freeing the other person of blame or culpability.
Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to live my life from one aphorism to the next. I see it as kind of like meditation from a different angle: it’s okay to stray, to forget that life is essentially a Good Thing, and to let negative feelings overwhelm you. The conscious effort at course correction, to steer yourself back on the Path, is what separates the truly exceptional people in your life from everyone else.