As a psychologist, I often reflect on the things that make people happy (or rather, “content.” No one is actually “happy” all the time). Through my work I get glimpses into the things that matter—the behaviors and ways of thinking that lead to satisfaction, and those that lead to misery. And I have come up with several life lessons that I hope my children learn:
- If everyone likes you, you’re doing something wrong. If you are being true to yourself, you will not please everyone all the time.
- Embrace your failures and mistakes. It means you’re trying, learning, and moving forward.
- Guilt (the feeling that your behavior was bad) sometimes is appropriate (and when it is, humbly apologize and try to make it better.) But shame (the feeling that you are bad) is never appropriate.
- Show up. Have the tough conversations; try new things; take risks. And don’t forget to remind yourself that you are a rockstar every time you do something courageous.
- The golden rule is golden for a reason. Use it with everyone, from the building custodian to your in-laws to your pet.
- Anger is usually fear disguised. People fear all kinds of things including their own rejection, not having control, and inadequacy. Think about that whenever you are raging angry or have someone is raging angry at you.
- You are no better or worse, no more or less deserving, than anyone else. If you wonder whether it is true that we are all more alike than different, spend some time talking—really talking—to people who you wouldn’t ordinarily get to know.
- Seeking perfection and comparing yourself to others are overrated. Be the best that you can be. (And don’t focus on why you can’t do something; focus on how you can.)
- Most of the icky stuff people do and say to you has zero to do with you. Instead it has everything to do with the lense they view you with. But if some negative feedback is warranted, please have the courage and humility to accept that and make corrections.
- Read autobiographies of those you admire. There is wisdom in the experiences of others.
- Self-confidence doesn’t come from people saying you are great. It comes from you doing things that make you actually proud of yourself.
- Integrity is when you have a value system and you stick to it. People with integrity sleep well at night and withstand disapproval from others. And even if your only value is “don’t be a dick,” and you stick to it with integrity, you’d make your mama proud.
- Flexibility is a beautiful thing. Changing your mind, changing the plan, and having a flexible world view, will save you a lot of strife.
- There is no room for belittling/diminishing in a relationship. Instead of pointing out someone’s faults, just ask for what you want. And if you are dating someone who puts you down instead of asks for what she wants, (or gossips and points out the negative aspects of everything) run. I don’t care how hot she is, just run.*
- Manners. Use them. (Enough said.)
- Along those lines, marry someone who says “please” and “thank you” every time the waiter refills her water. For that matter, marry someone who neither lets it ruin her night nor refuses to tip if that waiter also accidentally spills water on her dress.*
- The only person you can change is yourself. You are responsible for your actions, words, and happiness; others are responsible for their own actions, words, and happiness. Yes, that even goes for your spouse.
- The best money spent is on experiences, not possessions.
- Don’t take time or people for granted. Including yourself. (Self-care, exercise, nutrition, etc. are important things to prioritize.)
- An apology includes a description of what you are sorry for and does not include anything about the other person’s behavior. It is not selfish to discontinue a relationship with someone who has been emotionally or physically harmful to you and hasn’t apologized and corrected the behavior.
And, if I had to write a #21, I’d say not to take anything too seriously, or give one second of worry about whether you are “doing it right.” Because there is no one-size-fits all list for achieving contentment, not even this one.
*yes, the same applies whether you choose to marry a woman or a man.