The Search for Meaning

Science, spirituality, and our desire for satisfaction

The 10 Commandments of Happiness

Good things happen when you follow these recommendations

Everyone wants to be happy, but the word "commandment" has a harsh ring to it, as though bad things will happen if you don't comply. The word actually derives from a Latin term meaning "to recommend" or "to entrust." During twenty years of counseling people in the best of times and the worst of times, I've found that good things happen when people follow these ten recommendations.

1. Remember your standards. People today spend a lot of energy arguing about whether our standards of conduct should come from ancient scripture or contemporary research, and whether the goal of human behavior should be personal fulfillment or collective wellbeing. Just because these various standards are contested, don't be tempted to think you don't need standards for yourself. No matter where your personal code of conduct comes from, you need to have one and live up to it 

2. Forgive your mistakes. The word "sin," while typically used in religious contexts today, was originally an archery term meaning "to miss the mark." No matter what mark you're aiming for in your personal or professional life, you're sometimes going to miss. The good news is that you can learn from your mistakes and try again. Even if you missed the mark yesterday, today presents another chance to be the kind of person you ought to be.

3. Always show up. Newton's First Law of Motion states that, absent other forces, bodies at rest will stay at rest and bodies in motion will stay in motion. If you want to get somewhere in life other than where you are, waiting for someone else to make the move isn't the answer. Life tends to reward people who take action and take responsibility. If you're sitting at home watching reruns, you won't meet new friends or discover new opportunities.

4. Never give up. What's the primary difference between people who are successful and people who aren't? It's not whether they have stumbled and fallen; it's whether they have gotten up and kept going. As you navigate the obstacles that inevitably show up in your path, you'll need to change your course and sometimes even change your destination. But if you quit, your story will end in defeat.

5. Take a break. Research consistently shows that whether you are studying for an exam, trying to get in shape, or working on a project, you'll achieve better results more quickly if you intersperse periods of intense focus with periods of rest. As far back as the book of Genesis, people knew that everyone needs a period of rest once in a while.

6. Leave a mark. In a world that's increasingly filled with mass-produced things and copy-cat activities, people stand out who take the initiative to make the world better. Albert Schweitzer once said that the only people who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found a way to serve. Look around and see what needs to be done, and then get to work.

7. Start something new. With minor variations, most of what we do each day and each week repeats what we did yesterday and last week. Routines are important in life, but they can also blind us to new possibilities for growth. Do something new today. Your life will get stale if you keep doing the same things over and over again.

8. Stop something old. Because our brains are pattern-seeking mechanisms, we find it fiendishly difficult to break entrenched patterns, especially when our brain connects destructive behaviors with pleasure. The good news is that a pattern of behavior may be a proclivity, but it's not a necessity. You can break a bad habit if you have the courage to turn the page and begin a new chapter. Start small, set a goal, and make a commitment.

9. Live with gratitude. As individuals, we have a tendency to think of ourselves as independent agents who are self sufficient and self reliant. Nothing could be further from the truth. We depend upon the people and world around us for everything, from the air we breathe and the food we eat to the parents who gave birth to us, the teachers who taught us, and the physicians who treat us, not to mention the workers who maintain our internet service. We should make certain our words and actions return the favor.

10. Love with abandon. The Beatles were wrong on this point: love isn't all you need. But it's certainly one of the things you need. At its heart, love is the quiet discipline of paying attention to the people and world around you, all the while knowing they depend on you, just as you do on them. You live at the intersection where all that is past meets all that is possible, so greet each moment with open arms and an open heart.

Galen Guengerich, Ph.D., is senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan and author of the book God Revised: How Religion Must Evolve in a Scientific Age.

more...

Subscribe to The Search for Meaning

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.