Thursday, September 2, 2010

25 Steps to a Happy Life (part 2 of 2)


In the previous post I introduced my "pearls of wisdom," presenting and briefly discussing the first 10 items on that list. Here are the remaining items:

11. Speak kindly; refuse to engage in hurtful speech. Act kindly; refuse to engage in cruel activities. Think kindly; refuse to engage in mean thoughts.
Of these, “speak kindly” is the most often ignored. Think how many times you’ve been with friends and someone has spoken poorly about a person who was not present. I still get caught up in that sometimes, but I’m improving. I’ve grown to find these conversations boring.
The most challenging of these is to “refuse to engage in mean thoughts.” Although I consider this is a worthy goal for purposes of maintaining inner peace, our unexpressed or un-acted upon thoughts have little impact on others. Our words and actions are what count.
12. Let stuff go. Just let it go.
We spent so much time rethinking and regretting our mistakes, and the mistakes of others. We need to just let stuff go, and move on – no small feat.
13. You have no control over the behavior of others.
As someone who has been a husband, a parent, and a manager for much of my life, I can attest to both the truthfulness and frustration of this statement. We want to believe that our influence over people will result in behavioral changes in a direction we desire. This happens once in a while, usually not because it's what we want, but because it's what the other person wants.
14. Replace “I don’t have time for that” with “that is not a priority,” and see if it still holds water.
Although it doesn't seem this way, we all have a lot of time on our hands. We just have difficulty managing it. Ideally, we spend adequate time on our highest priorities and less time time on our lowest priorities. Most of us, myself included, fail miserably at this allocation task.
When you say that you don't have time for a certain activity, in essence what you are saying is that this activity is not a priority. In an effort to make sure that you are not avoiding high priority activities under the guise of not having time for them, try substituting the phrase "that is not a priority" when you would usually say "I don't have time for that," and see if it still makes sense.       
15. Serve others.
I'm certainly doing more of this now that I have abundant time on my hands. I manage my daughter’s college expenses for her (student loans, etc).  I help out with a nonprofit called CCSVI Alliance.  I take time to share my experiences as a disabled person at this blog.  “Serve others” is a concept that pertains to close, personal relationships as well as to society in general.
16. Forgive others.
When you forgive others their transgressions, you're not only making their lives better, but your own as well. Carrying around anger and seeking revenge are high prices to pay for someone else's mistake.
17. Do one thing at a time.
This is a requirement of mindfulness. Stop multi-tasking. Ha! Try to sell this concept to anyone under the age of 30.
18. You are not in charge, but you are not helpless either.
It is liberating to admit that we cannot control events or others reactions to those events. Yet, it would be unsettling if we thought we had no influence at all. We have influence, but we must accept our considerable limitations.
19. Suffering is caused by attachment to desire. Desire is wanting something you don’t have.
Again, this flies in the face of modern American culture, where the object is to keep up with the Jones, or to die with the most toys. It's a senseless game. Study after study has shown a weak or even negative correlation between material possessions and happiness. On the other hand, I’d rather be rich and miserable than poor and miserable (or does that statement only reveal my lack of understanding of this concept?).
20. Envision an outcome, only in order to set a direction. Don’t invest in the outcome; invest in the process.
Outcomes are often outside of our control. However, the processes that we employ in order to move toward a goal are within our control, and it's the processes themselves that often provide fulfillment.
21. All we have is right now. Live it!
As someone with a highly uncertain future, staying in the moment is deeply important to me, and something that I work on constantly. I try to live each day as if it could be my last. Of course as a matter of practicality, this is impossible. But it’s the process of working toward this goal that matters.

22. You only have so much capacity for empathy. Conserve it for the important stuff. 
The best way to stop feeling bad for everyone’s misfortunes is to stop watching television news. At least 50% of the local and national news is designed to make you feel bad about stuff: accidents, fires, wars, global warming, recessions, starving children…there is no end to it. If you at least get your news in the paper or online, you can skip over the items that you don’t need to be concerned with. Yes, the world is full of horrors, but being reminded of that in daily doses at 6:00 in the morning, noon, and 5:00, 6:00, and again at 7:00 in the evening is not helping you to lead a happy life.
For a wonderful discussion of the evolution of "empathy," click here. 
23. Spend time with people who are different from you.
And do that with an open mind. See what you can learn from them. Consider the possibility that your culture, or your circle of like-minded people, may not have everything right.
24. Be creative and have crazy ideas. Take risks.
You only get to live life once, and as one who is beyond the halfway mark, I'm here to tell you that it goes by fast. If we spend all of our time in our comfort zone, never venturing outside to consider new ideas or push existing boundaries, then we’ve wasted a precious opportunity. Dare to be creative. Entertain crazy ideas. Don't be afraid to take risks. Remember to forgive yourself, and forget the pain, when you fail. I'm convinced that life is so much more enjoyable when it is lived this way.
25. Life hasn't promised us anything. Life doesn’t owe us anything.
The odds are so incredibly stacked against any individual actually being born. Consider the chain of events that lead to your birth. Every direct ancestor of yours had to survive childbirth, live to at least puberty, and successfully procreate.  The offspring of that activity then had to meet with the same success. This had to happen innumerable times, and it had to happen to a great extent before the advent of modern medicine. Not one single ancestor broke the chain of success.
For much of human history, the odds of this success were poor for any given individual, let alone for an entire line of ancestors. When you think about it this way, we are so extremely fortunate to have ever been born that life doesn't owe us anything at all. Just by having been born at all, we are forever indebted to life. This renders every day and every experience a bonus, a gift. If you enjoy one day of happiness or 100 years of it, you win.

26. Pick up after yourself.

27. Stop being such an asshole.

The last two items were added by my wife
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  1. For those who know me, they would never think that I would be so cruel :-) ~at least in public;)

    love, your wife

  2. Hi Mitch,

    I'm Back!!! Great rules to live by except maybe the one about "not being such an asshole". That's going to be a hard one to live up to. Do you think I could get some kind of a dispensation on that one?


  3. Your musings offer practical insight that all adults could richly benefit from. This is a keeper for me, Mitch!

  4. Great thoughts! Were all them your own creation? If so, I'm doubly impressed! (Kinda like your wife's add-ons, too!)

  5. Kim,

    Just please don't hit me with the frying pan, again...I'm trying to improve.


    Welcome back! I think only the pope or your wife can grant the dispensation you seek. Good luck.


    I'm glad you found my little pearls helpful. I don't want to come across as sanctimonious. These are just little tidbits I've picked up along the way. I, by no means, have life all figured out.


    Everything except 6,14,22,23,24,25 come right out of Zen philosophy. The others come from a variety of sources. Glad you liked them.

  6. Hey Mitch. Love your little pearls.

    I was raised in a Buddhist home (Theravadan, not Zen). I am not Buddhist myself but it seems the Buddhist practice is a big part of my practice. Zen in an entity unto itself but the things you mention are universal for all Buddhist practices (I believe).

    Just this week I visited a forrest monastery and had a long interview with the abbot there. It was very helpful for me.

    For some Happy News, you might want to try this site: I've been visiting it a lot lately. It includes medical, US, international, scientific and entertainment news. I love it.

    I hope you are well.