Begin YOUR happiness project! Need help getting started? Write a list of happiness commandments for yourself.

A few weeks ago, I posted about my epiphany that EVERYONE should have a happiness project. Join in! Start your own!

I need to figure out some systematic way to address this topic, but until I do, I think I’ll just throw out some provocative suggestions to get people thinking.

One of the most difficult — and most helpful and fun — challenges I undertook in my happiness project was coming up with my list of Twelve Commandments. I should do a series of posts explaining the significance of each one, because a few are a bit cryptic, but for me, they are all extraordinarily meaningful:

1. Be Gretchen.
2. Let it go.
3. Act as I would feel.
4. Do it now.
5. Be polite and be fair.
6. Enjoy the process.
7. Spend out.
8. Identify the problem.
9. Lighten up.
10. Do what ought to be done.
11. No calculation.
12. There is only love.

So, for your happiness project, come up with your own set of commandments.

A reader wrote that she was trying to come up with her own set, but it kept turning into a to-do list. I had the same problem. Remember, this isn’t a place for things like “Put your keys away in the same place every night.” But maybe that resolution fits into a larger self-command you’d like to observe.

For inspiration, here are some examples.

The first is from Howell Raines’ Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis.

Rule One: Always be careful about where you fish and what you fish for and whom you fish with.
Rule Two: Be even more careful about what you take home and what you throw back.
Rule Three: The point of all fishing is to become ready to fly fish.
Rule Four: The point of fly fishing is to become reverent in the presence of art and nature.
Rule Five: The Redneck Way and Blalock’s Way run along the same rivers, but they do not come out at the same place.

Here are two sets emailed to me from readers (who want to be anonymous):

1. Say yes.
2. Don’t keep score.
3. No fear.
4. Give without limits or expectations.
5. Take it in.
6. Expect a miracle.
7. Play the hand I’m dealt.
8. Recognize my ghosts.
9. Be specific about my needs.
10. React to the situation.
11. Keep proportion.

1. Overcome obstacles—you cannot overcome every obstacle but you can overcome more obstacles than you think, if you just persevere
2. Spend more—life is short, you have a tendency to hoard things (money, time), and you cannot take them with you when you go, so spend them while you can
3. Do what matters—resist the temptation to do something easy but forgettable or meaningless and instead do things that matter, even if they are more difficult; make memories
4. Pay attention—deadlines, politics, relationships, names, birthdays, what people are most proud of, their favorite things/activities, and especially their life dreams
5. Stay calm—unless you are seeking thrills and excitement (e.g. skydiving), stress kills and soothing attracts; you and your relationships will live longer if you stay calm
6. Empathize—put yourself in the other person’s shoes; resist the temptations to: argue, criticize, or complain, focus on yourself and not others, forget people’s names, deny your mistakes, boast of your successes and other’s failures, fail to reward those who do good by you
7. Get outside—almost everything feels better with sunlight on your skin
8. Get physical—being physical, whether in athletics or relationships, is a supreme source of joy
9. Do it now—life is short; procrastination will ruin the little life you have; fear it accordingly
10. Take care of yourself—if you value something, take care of it, and other people will notice
11. Believe you are the prize—confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy, neediness is unattractive, and pride is not a sin
12. Be classy
13. Experiment—get out of the rut; boredom will kill you and your relationships
14. Feel the danger—many dangers (saturated fat, drunk driving) don’t feel dangerous until it is too late
15. Don’t pick—often one must leave well enough alone: acne, wounds, other people’s flaws and mistakes, topics of conversations that other people don’t want to talk about, these are things that should be left alone—despite the most burning desire you have to reopen them; let people cool down and things might heal themselves

One thing that interests me is how distinct these lists are. The commandments give a powerful sense of each writer’s character and of the kinds of challenges he or she faces.

Tomorrow, I’m going to post some tips on creating your own set of happiness commandments.

There’s an interesting post on LifeRemix today, 20 Simple Ways to Become a Bookworm. There’s a lot of great information there, resources that I didn’t know about, and I’m a real book addict. As for reading more, the most important things is — remember, it’s supposed to be FUN! I just found a new great book on St. Therese, and I’m amazed at how quickly I’m making my way through it.

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • I suppose one of mine would have to be “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” That’s kind of what my happiness project is focused on. But it would be hard to work off of the 100 that Carlson offers, too many to remember.
    I look forward to this list to find ways to come up with others.
    Maybe “take time to do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy when you need it” would be another good one for me (and others who do CBT).

  • Keely H.

    I really enjoyed this post and am now hard at work creating my own happiness commandments. I’m really looking forward to your posts that will elaborate each of your happiness commandments.
    One question I had regarding the “No calculation.” commandment was, isn’t it inherently calculating (although without the negative connotations of the word, calculating, i.e. manipulative) to live by a list of commandments?
    Here are a couple of definitions from
    1. To determine by reasoning, common sense, or practical experience; estimate; evaluate; gauge.
    2. To make suitable or fit for a purpose.
    It seems to me that one of the central missions of your blog is to calculate happiness and adapt one’s lifestyle accordingly.
    Just a thought. I liked the other commandments a great deal. In particular the “Be polite and be fair.” Hopefully this comment will not be construed as a breaking of that commandment.


  • Mike

    My understanding of the Happiness Project was that you had attempted to incorporate everything you’d read about effective methods of increasing happiness into one cohesive effort. How did you come up with your Twelve Commandments? Were there specific inspirations for each guideline? I’m worried about accidentally creating Commandments that are known by others to decrease happiness. For instance, I struggle with overcommitting at church and other activities. “Say Yes” would be an absolutely horrible Commandment for me and any attempt at increasing my happiness. What would you recommend as reading before attempting to create Commandments?

  • One of mine would definately be “pursue your passions”. I’ve just recently started my own blog, in part after coming across your web site. (I started reading your old posts first, but I check in to see what’s new from time to time).
    I think this is a great idea. It will really help you identify what is important in your life so you can focus on what you love. With your own commandments it helps you stay focused on your values (and not someone else’s.)

  • Mike’s point that “Say yes” should absolutely NOT be one of his commandments is terrific. That’s why it’s so important that each person come up with his or her own set. They REALLY vary. You can’t read them in a book or lift an entire list from someone else (though seeing others is good for inspiration. Tomorrow I’m going to post some tips on coming up with a list.
    “No calculation” is a paraphrase from St. Therese, who said, “When one loves, one does not calculate.” What she meant was that you should give and love unstintingly. I have a grudging, score-keeping tendency –“I let you take a nap so you have to let me go to the gym,” etc. That’s what I mean by “no calculation” on my list.

  • Not necessarily a happiness project but some points I wrote down to focus on as a life project.
    My Life Markers
    1. Travel light
    2. Go slow
    3. Be present
    4. Keep walking
    5. Have fun
    6. Ask why
    7. Speak up

  • Jean-Paul

    Talk about synchronicity. This is what I emailed Gretchen yesterday (and exactly on the same wavelength as MM!)
    “Loved your blog! FWIW – here’s my favourites selection from ‘don’t sweat the
    small stuff’ which i have pinned above my desk:
    1 (a) Don’t sweat the small stuff. (b) It’s all small stuff.
    2 Allow the silly driver to have his accident elsewhere.
    3 What is this slow/stupid/.. person trying to teach me?
    4 In absence of your judgment, life/everything would be just fine.
    5 Gentle, relaxed, peaceful people can be super-achievers.
    6 An “in-basket” is not meant to be empty.
    7 Will this still matter 1 year from now?
    8 Life isn’t fair. In fact, it wasn’t even MEANT to be fair.
    9 Imagine yourself at your own funeral.
    10 Smile at strangers, look into their eyes and say hello.
    11 On your way to work, pull off & for 2 minutes enjoy the view.
    12 See the glass as already broken.
    13 It takes more time to work to pay fines than you saved by speeding.
    14 Practice being in the (quiet) eye of the storm.
    15 You become what you practise most.
    16 Take up yoga (in the office).
    17 Think of problems as potential teachers.
    18 Maybe so, maybe not (ox – horse – son/broken leg – army call-up).
    19 Remember 100 years from now – all new people.
    20 If someone throws you a ball, you don’t have to catch it.
    21 Everything (experience) passes & disappears into nothingness.
    22 Keep asking yourself what’s really important.
    23 Live each day as if it were your last – it might well be!
    24 Only 10 000 days left (to live; i.e. make the most of each one of them)
    PS Check with Carlsson’s book if something’s too obscure
    PSS That’s my selection – you should make your own… (Can you tell i’m a bit of an impatient driver 🙂

  • Helen

    Have you seen Bob Sutton’s “Things I believe” – do you think they fall into the commandments category?

  • Keely H.

    Hi Gretchen,
    Thanks for explaining your “No Calculation.” commandment. Have you ever read the book, “The Joy Luck Club”? One of the characters finds herself in an unhappy marriage in which her husband carefully calculates all their expenses to ensure that everything is perfectly fair and equal, but the biases of the calculator ensure that things are perpetually unequal. You make a good point that that sort of calculation can sometimes interfere with the natural harmony of relationships.

  • Hi Gretchen-
    I wrote down my personal philosophies in June, 2000, while in the midst of my own “Phoenix Process”. They are still true today. I take that as a sign that they are mine at a core level, despite vast changes in my everyday surroundings and circumstances. It is not coincidental that these phrases are among the ones I hammer for my affirmation jewelry business, My list:
    1. Be True To Youself
    2. Trust Your Instincts
    3. Live In Gratitude
    4. Walk in Love and Peace
    5. Don’t Let Fear Dictate
    6. Foster Your Passions
    7. Pursue Growth
    8. Live with Passion, Compassion and Integrity
    9. Make Relationships A Priority
    10. Be Kind
    Best wishes-

  • Hi Gretchen,
    This is great! A friend introduced me to your site. Very cool stuff.
    It’s funny, I posted my own “woman”-ifesto on my blog last month and the whole commandment idea totally resonates with that. This exercise helped me explore it even more.
    Thanks, Jenn
    Jenn’s Commandments
    1.Step out and be seen. Speak up and be heard.
    2. Say Yes!
    3. Live in beauty.
    4. Do yoga on and off the mat.
    5. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
    6. Laugh, play, have fun!
    7. Trust in my own brilliance.
    8. Do something creative everyday.
    9. Practice self-care.
    10. Come from love.
    11. It’s okay for it to be easy.
    12. Just be.
    13. Move toward the roar. Go where I’ve never been. What’s in the way is the way.
    14. Look for the learning.
    15. Follow my heart.
    16. Live my passion.
    17. Walk my talk.

  • Mine so far. But I have to add some there are some good ideas up there.
    1) Relax. Breathe deeply
    2) Accept this moment as it is. Love it as it is.
    3) Trust in yourself
    4) Challenge yourself
    5) Appreciate.
    6) Write.
    7) Sing and dance without embarassment.
    8) Express. Don’t fight, just say it.
    9) Indulge.
    10) Listen. Really listen.
    11) Pick up after yourself.
    12) Talk more.
    13) Stretch

  • Lena

    Gretchen, I discovered your blog just a few days before this post. I spent an alarming amount of time reading all your archives and sharing your blog with my friends. I was so inspired. I decided to start thinking about my own commandments right away, and then you posted this invitation. So here are mine in no particular order, except for #1. Your #1 resonated with me in such a powerful way that I just had to use it. I’ve been trying them out and so far #1 + one or more of the others = totally centered. Thank you for the inspiration and for sharing all your amazing insights.
    1. Be Lena.
    2. Give everything but my power.
    3. Confront fear.
    4. Trust my instincts.
    5. Redefine reality.
    6. Question the impossible.
    7. Grace always.
    8. Use ears and mouth in correct proportion.
    9. Stretch boundaries.
    10. Guard boundaries.
    11. Dream as if I’ll live forever.
    12. Live as if I’ll die today.

  • Thanks for the inspiration! I’ve posted some explanation for mine on my blog.
    1. Is this really me?
    2. Be present.
    3. Create space.
    4. No ruts.
    5. Happy either way.
    6. See the forest, and the trees.

  • I have been thinking about the same “self-commandments” type of living for a while, but I keep coming back to how a list means I need to work on all of them everyday, starting now! It keeps making me feel like I am creating another form of “instant gratification” for myself and I fall into believing the reason I am doing it is only for myself! It all comes back to me, me, me! When in reality, I really want to be more selfless rather than selfish. I had a revelation about it and decided to make it a work out plan, and to allow myself to take each issue one at a time! My list will grow slowly and I will treat each commandment with care and like a grade of school! Starting with the fundamentals(A,B,C’s). This includes creating a first commandment for myself that creates a mindset of understanding and forgiveness within myself and to others! I think a base for all people should be to allow the negative in with the positive, not to be defensive when it comes! People sharpen other people everyday, you can’t sharpen a sharp knife with another sharp knife, you need something to oppose it! I seem to wrap myself in a black shroud to protect myself. This shroud should be hung up every morning, I may not be ready to throw it away yet, but you wouldn’t do that to your own child even! That is to throw away their security blanket and expect them to deal with it rationally! I want to look at the shroud and say to myself “Ezra, that part of your life is in the past, why don’t you try on a brighter color today? Maybe go Nude!”(Not literally)! We all need to shed a layer or two, or three, or four, or five! I wanna start with:
    1. Hang up all defensive colors. Change the color as many times a day, wherever I need or want to, as long as those colors promote acceptance, patience, and understanding!

  • I’ve gotten down to one commandment:
    1. Eliminate considerations.
    LIberation is our natural state. We bind ourselves to far too many considerations.

  • Happiness is to be present in the present
    Reza Hossein Borr
    Life is now, yet, I wait for it to come. Life is now, yet, I wait for happiness to come later. And later never ends. I decided, therefore, that later is now and life is now to enjoy right now, not later.
    When you go in the past you lose the present. When you go in the future you also lose the present. And your life is only present in the present. You do not know how long your life will be present in future. But you know that you are in now and today; and what you make of it now is how you make life. Stay in the present but look at the past. Stay in the present but look to the future. This is the only way that you will not lose even a moment of time. If you live in the past your present will look like the past. The value of life is now and how you live it. What you are doing in this moment and how you feel now, is your life.
    How your moments are now, is how you live. Your living is decided by the way you feel. If you can master the art of feeling well you can master the art of living well. Life is feeling. Feeling is life. When you feel well, you live well.
    Life is now if you know what is now. What was now earlier is past now and it is gone beyond control now. Enjoy now when it is now. When what is now becomes the past and when you remember that past, you got to have some pleasant feelings in your body that your past was worthwhile.
    When I remember yesterday I am glad that I remember it because I lived in the way I wanted to live it. I did what I wanted to do. And I talked to those people that I liked to talk. Even when it was yesterday, I remember the day before it and I was glad to remember it because that day too was what I made it. But it took me a long time to realise that what I do to my days I will recall later and when I recall them, I want to feel good about them.
    Recently I found a friend from the days of my university. When we talked together I remember a lot of pleasant memories and therefore I know how good it is to have pleasant moments in my life. We talked about what we did together. We talked about the places that we went together and we talked about the way we laughed and how we walked under the rain. I am glad that I knew how to live at that time to have such pleasant moments to recall now.
    I love to recall yesterday because I feel good about playing with my grandchild. Playing with him was wonderful. I recall that when I was as old as he is now I enjoyed life the way he is enjoying it now. At that time my grandfather made it possible for me to enjoy life and today I make life enjoyable for my grandchild so that he continues this tradition of making life good and pleasant for himself and for the new generations. Teaching myself and him how to be happy is a legacy that I want live for my coming generations so that they learn from me how to become happy and how to teach their children the legacy of happiness.
    I love to have a great future but a great future will not be made by a poor present. To make, therefore, my future great, I am determined to make my present as great as I want my future to become.
    Reza Hossein Borr is an NLP Master Trainer and a leadership consultant and the creator of 150 CDs and 14 Change management models. He is also the author of Manual Success, Manual of Coaching and Mentoring, Motivational Stories that Can Change Your Life, and a New Vision for the Islamic World. He can be contacted by email:

  • Goggins

    Here are mine :
    1) Remind yourself that “you’ve got this”.
    2) Give positive reinforcement.
    3) Be patient.
    4) Tomorrow is a new day.
    5) See the good in all things.
    6) Remember people’s names.
    7) Know your partners love language
    8) Forgive (especially yourself).
    9) Make decisions in the calm.
    10) Be mindful.
    11) Smile a lot.
    12) Be brave.