Soaking in the sunshine and lounging on the dock of Megan’s lakehouse, I sat in a somewhat circle with the rest of ODK as Tucker read off the list of Thomas Jefferson’s ten rules for living a good life. These were TJ’s ten most meaningful maxims and included everything from fiscal advice to my favorite, number seven: “Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.”
Before the retreat, ODK had requested that we each create our own list of ten rules for a good life. For me, this exercise was a good beginning foray into my happiness project; Gretchen Rubin lives by 12 commandments, but at least this would get me started. Keeping in mind that this is the very rough and unpolished draft, my rules are as follows:
1. Be here now
There were many variations of this in our ODK circle – “be present,” “be where your feet are,” etc. – but all expressed the same sentiment of how important it is to appreciate every moment you are alive and pay attention to the people around you, which can be difficult when we have a lot on our minds or technology in our hands.
I struggle with this rule so often because I like complexity and completion, but I realize more each day that the essentials are what really matters, and this commandment covers everything from avoiding materialism to avoiding overcommitment.
3. “Do not be angry with the rain”
“… it simply does not know how to fall upwards.” – Vladimir Nabokov. Not only do I find the rain poetic and cleansing, but I love this concept because it reminds me not to hold grudges against people, things, or events that are beyond anyone’s control; it’s easier and less stressful to just let them be, or react with something more productive than anger.
4. Work hard and 5. Be kind
When Conan O’Brien lost his spot on NBC’s “The Tonight Show”, he gave one of the most optimistic and genuine speeches I’ve ever heard. The real heart of it culminated in a single line: “if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”
6. Stay young at heart
This rule is a catch-all in a lot of ways: encouraging curiosity and to never stop asking questions, urging us to laugh when we want to laugh and cry when we want to cry, giving us room to stay a little bit naive and innocent and hopeful, and refusing to become too old or mature to get genuinely excited about whatever we want.
I needed this rule for three very different reasons. One, I need to do a better job of remembering the small things, like where a friend is from, his or her zodiac sign, his or her plans for the weekend. Two, I need to do a better job letting others know I remember good things about them, like the first time we met or an inside joke that made us both laugh. And three, I need to remember the most beautiful, salient, capricious moments of my existence, and the only way for me to do that well is to write, write, write.
8. Make friends with the world
Straight off of my Twitter bio, this idea speaks to wanting to see every stranger as a potential new friend and every place as a potential new home. It also inspires me to travel, to dabble in foreign languages, and to learn more about cultures and ways of life elsewhere in the world.
9. Eat the cookie dough
The number of times I have planned on making cookies but instead happily consumed all the cookie dough is too many to count, and despite what some beauty magazines and health websites may advise, I never feel bad for doing it. Literally, I want to be able to do things like that and enjoy them without feeling guilty; in a more figurative sense, there will be things that people warn us about or say we shouldn’t or can’t do, but it doesn’t always mean we have to listen.
10. “Live, love, and say it well in good sentences.”
Sylvia Plath said it, I read it at the ODK induction ceremony, and it encapsulates so much of what I want out of life and what I want to put into others’ lives. Living and loving are the most admirable goals I think anyone can have, but for me especially, I will forever be working at putting those experiences into the most perfect words possible.
As for the two additional rules I’ll need in order to make them into happiness commandments, still workin on it!