10 Tips for Living a Better Life, One Day at a Time–from Pope John XXIII.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 10 tips for living a better life, one day at a time — from Pope John XXIII.

One of the most important strategies of my Happiness Project has been keeping my Resolutions Chart. It provides accountability, it prompts me to review all my resolutions once a day, it gives me the gold stars I crave — when I manage to follow my resolutions. (If you’d like to see a copy of my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com].)

I love reading other people’s resolutions and their personal commandments, and I was very interested to read the daily decalogue of Pope John XXIII (a “decalogue” is a set of rules having authoritative weight). Pope John XXIII was pope from 1958-1963 and was known as “The Good Pope.”

One aspect of the list that’s worth noting is the emphasis on taking each day as it comes. This mindset is hugely helpful to me. Instead of allowing myself to become overwhelmed and discouraged by imagining how hard it would be to keep my resolutions for the rest of my life, I just take it day by day (or Bird by Bird for you Anne Lamott fans). Alcoholics Anonymous follows this same approach – emphasizing “one day at a time” to keep a difficult change manageable.

So here are ten tips from Pope John XXIII about how to live a better life, day to day:

1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.

2. Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behavior; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.

3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.

4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.

5. Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.

6. Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.

7. Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.

8. Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.

9. Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.

10. Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

I’ve read this decalogue several times over the years, and every time I read it, a different admonition catches my attention. Today I found myself mulling over #2: “I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.” That’s a good resolution for a happiness project. It often seems as though I’d be happy if only other people would behave properly! But the truth is, the only person I can really “improve or discipline” is myself.

Which of the ten rang most true for you?

* Speaking of daily decalogues, I was thrilled to see that Abbey, of the blog Beauty and Thorns, has started her own happiness project, and I was particularly intrigued to read her excellent Ten Commandments and her twelve goals for the year.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 44,000 people get it)
Buy the book
— Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

  • menopausalentrepreneur

    These are all gems that are equally important but number 5 stands out for me – read every day. As a writer, I get so engrossed into my own projects that I forget about the value of reading other materials. Thank you for sharing this inspirational message. I am printing it and keeping it with my daily meditations.

    • we all think so many things but hardly few keep in practice. we forget what to do and what to not do. also we fail to remember alwasy what to follow and what not to follow. keep in pace should be our motto. but situation does not permit us to stay smile ,cool,patient all time.yes, continious practice can make success,which is not possible in my case ,i realise.

  • Sandra Godwin Staples

    What a great list! I have copied them into my own journal. Thanks so much find finding them for me.

  • #8 stands out for me (although they are all great). I am a planner already but it seems that indecision and hastiness are combating each other even though they are rather opposites. So it is good to balance them both out.

    If you are plagued by indecision then that will often lead to a hasty decision that is most likely not the best one.

    #10 is also great because if you can eliminate your fears, just the fears of the current day, you are guaranteed to be happier.

  • LivewithFlair

    I love number one. My resolution is to “Live with Flair” and find the extraordinary in the common, so that one resonates with me. Also, I’m resolving to love my community–my small town, big world! http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com/ Thank for caring about our projects!

  • flossattrocbrocandrecup

    Love it, love it! I had no idea it existed!

    I like 4 – that’s how I’ve been trying to live since I became more mindful of my desire to control circumstances and people.

    I should be telling a group of mums about your blog tomorrow – I am doing a talk about blogging and the things that have really influenced me. I think they will like what they find here!

  • Really? Taking advice from the pope, who represents an organization best known for eons of major oppression and narrow thinking? I think the “good pope” forgot to mention embracing and cherishing diversity (think gays and lesbians, among many others) and equality (think women as priests), and on and on and on. Absolutely he’s the last person on earth I would take advice from.

    • If it is good advice that rings true to me, I can take it from any source. It seems you might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. In general I am with you about the problems and even dangers associated with organized religion, and I even was a little surprised to see THIS sort of list coming from the head of THAT sort of institution, but I got over it.

      • Asda

        It’s actually best know for the hope it inspires in many and for centuries of maintaining culture and inspiring knowledge. You can’t name a culture that hasn’t had it’s errors in the past. And you can name few that have acknowledged and ask for forgiveness for them. You’d be happier if you’d drop the stones in your hand and follow #10 a little closer…

        • Asda

          And there goes my #2…

  • Megs283

    “Only for today…” so crucial. Love it! #4 and #7 are my personal challenges.

  • Angela

    Great post, Gretchen. The “only for today” refrain really helps me stick to difficult goals. It’s hard for me to imagine eating healthy food in proper portions for the rest of my life, but I find the burden smaller if I think about it one day [or even one meal] at a time.

  • Interesting list, thanks for sharing it. I like #5 and 6 – both things I should do more of. I definitely am one who believes in taking each day as it comes, so that aspect that you highlighted appeals very much to me.

  • Ann

    I am dealing with #2 today. The last part. Yesterday I posted a comment on another blog and today am dealing with the bashing one risks when there is disagreement with the blogger. I am resisting a snarky reply.

    • Alopresti

      More dealing with #2. Now my comment is the target of an entire post!!! So, sooooo want to defend and explain my orginal post, but fear being misunderstood and bashed even more. Oh, well, here is to not criticizing anyone or improving anyone but myself…just for today.

      • gretchenrubin

        The internet conversation can be rough!!!

  • April

    Lovely, Gretchen. I believe I have seen a different version of this before, but it bears repeating.

    @Anne Smith: I am not a Catholic and have my share of disagreements with the Catholic church and the pope, but I believe it’s possible to draw wisdom from this regardless. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

  • Jimbethel

    This list seems very similar to the One Day at a Time of Al-Anon.

  • Peninith1

    these are very closely parallel to the ‘Just for Today’ suggestions given as a bookmark to every new member of certain 12 step groups. I have found that little bookmark to be worth several times its weight in purest gold. The Pope appears to have adapted this brilliant advice slightly to fit the Church’s principles a little more closely, but the basic points are the same. I have found these “Just for today” or “Only for today” ideas invaluable in keeping myself positive and moving forward even in the most difficult of times.

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting to see the parallels, absolutely.

      Pope John XXIII lived from 1881-1963, so I don’t think he adapted his work
      from a twelve step group.

      • Peninith1

        Really . . .?! the 12 step groups I have in mind have been very active in the world since the 1930s, and the ‘just for today’ suggestions are pretty contemporaneous with the 12 steps. I imagine Pope John had every opportunity to be familiar with the great spiritual thinking that crystallized in AA

      • guest

        The Pope’s 10 thoughts for each day closely parallel Dale Carnegie’s 10 thoughts for each day in his book How to win friends and influence people/how to stop worrying and start living.

  • jenny_o

    #2 and #7I struggle so hard against trying to improve others! Especially on the internet (Ann, I feel your pain).I also have such trouble keeping my hurt feelings to myself sometimes.

  • kathleen

    Thanks for this – I so needed to read it this morning! Life in so much more manageable when taken in 24 hour chunks 🙂

  • What I love about your posts in general Gretchen is that it makes me smile and actually FEEL something. I’m often so busy that I forget all the wonderful things in life and your blog and these teachings are what uplift me.

    Strangely enough, the phrase “Only for Today” is what struck me the most. It makes me focus on the the time that is now. And that if I live every day, one day at a time, I won’t feel as overwhelmed.

    For me Number 4 Struck closest to my heart. I would like to think that I control everything, or that I’m responsible for everything, but it’s more of attitude to allow things to flow when bad or good things happen.

  • I loved this list. As many have said and as he summarizes in #10, the “only for today” part is the only thing that makes it doable. Although I am not Catholic, I truly believe Pope John Paul walked with God as few have.

  • Rebecca Snavely

    I really appreciate this! #10 rang most true for me on first reading, as living in the present moment, true to who I am, without fear (of future, of people-pleasing) has been a theme for me the last few years. And especially need the reminder not to be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and good. Thank you!

  • Lenora

    4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.

    I do adapt b/c I always feel that I have no choice. To do this justice I guess I am going to have to feel the presence of choice while adapting. 🙂

  • 1. I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.

    I can be a very impatient person, endemic of being a 20-something I think. I find myself thinking that this one thing will solve my problems. Often these ‘problems’ dissolve on their own if I just let them be.

  • I love this. I am going to be doing one per day and posting about it on my blog.

  • Abby

    The Pope’s ten tips are printed and will hang on the fridge!

    #8 rings most true to me today. I need a plan.

  • LivewithFlair

    Gretchen–my little one tried out for the talent show with a piano piece. I was TERRIFIED for her: http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com/. But, the Good Providence of God was with her and showed her what it means to win the love of the fickle crowd. The Pope’s words ring true today.

  • katharine

    where did you find this? I’d love to read the original from the pope.

  • Gthorton

    I’m so glad you’ve highlighted that religion and happiness are not mutually exclusive, as so many often think.

    While reading your book, I often thought of how the pursuit of happiness is not selfishness, but a duty.

    As the Westminster Catechism states:
    Q. What is the chief end of man?
    A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

    For further reading on this topic, see John Piper’s Desiring God. One of my favorite examples he gives is that his wife would not be pleased if he showed up on their anniversary with flowers and a card saying, “We’ve been married for 20 years, so it is my duty to bring you these.” But she’d be pleased if he showed up and said it was his PLEASURE to do so. Selfish? Perhaps, but it means so much more to both of them.

  • For me it is 3 and 10 — they have in common the notion that the world is actually a good and benevolent place, and we can feel free to see the best not only in others but in ourselves. I will confess that it was odd to me to see this sort of notion coming from a person whose milieu is all about guilt and “original sin.” I might go looking for a biography now to see how he reconciled that.

  • Rosie

    These principles parallel the Al-Anon principles and those in AA. I love them…but please check the source…I believe I first read them in my al-anon book…great rules to live by.

  • Jackaroni1229
  • Inspiring post. Very – wise quotes 🙂

  • Edra

    Like you, I find that almost every time I read this, a different point resonates for me–a ‘tuning fork’ for that particular point in my life.

    THANK YOU for sharing this. It has been tremendously inspiring and helpful!

  • HartEdmonds

    Gretchen, where did you get the idea that the central purpose of life is happiness? Just curious.


    • gretchenrubin

      Gosh, the answer to that is so long and complicated that I wrote a whole
      book about it!

  • Nicole

    After reading this list, I just can’t seem to get number 6, “only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it”, out of my head. This is a difficult one for me to wrap my head around.

    On one hand, many of us are coveters of “gold stars”, myself included. I want to do things to make others around me happy and I want them to know that I’m doing them. I want people to appreciate me as a source of their happiness. It makes me feel happy in turn. How good do the words, “Thanks, you really brightened my day by doing that”, make us all feel? It’s almost as if their happiness isn’t enough to make me feel happy; I need the credit as well (trust me, I took a lot from the “don’t expect praise or appreciation” section of The Happiness Project.

    When I think about it on the other hand however, I think of how happy I feel when things seem to fall into place, without rhyme or reason. When a difficult or nagging task turns out to be easier than I thought, I feel an immense sense of happiness. It’s as if the Universe itself were watching out for me. It also gives me the motivation to tackle something before it becomes too nagging. Would my happiness deflate a little if I found out that things were easier because someone helped me? Maybe. Might I feel a little bummed out if I thought I had tackled something difficult on my own only to find out I hadn’t? Maybe. Maybe we should all do some good deeds without telling. I know I’m going to try it.

  • Guest

    It is good to do good things for other people without expecting anything in return (including a ‘thank you’ from them).

  • Irinadax

    I beleive the bible speaks about happiness and Gods desire for us to be happy and have joy ‘in abundance and overflowing’. H.H. Dalai Lama wrote an entire book about happiness and it being our purpose and birth right. I’m no expert on happiness, goodness knows I’ve had a great deal of sadness in my life, but one thing I know for sure, I was of no service to anyone when I was sad. I’m of much better service to my fellow human beings when I’m in a state of contentment and quiet joy.

  • Bufeustace

    I would like to know how to get along with people that say and so things behind your back to make you look bad? Any help?

  • Stephanie

    Email isn’t active any longer? Maybe i typed in the wrong one, but i’d certainly love to see that chart!

  • Better systems also help you live better….www.prpsolutions.com….with its healthy reminders and organized data system ….came across one example from the systems perspective that helps you live better.

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