Back in the day, I started reading an overwhelmingly long book called “Principles” by Ray Dalio. I didn’t finish the book, and can’t remember any of Ray’s Principles, probably because reading someone else’s truth isn’t as useful as creating one’s own.
Below is my crack at writing down my principles for living a fulfilling life. For the sake of vividness, I’ve made each of them based on a short quote. Hope you enjoy!
Or, better yet, take a crack at writing down your own principles / quotes for living well.
- “Get high off your own supply” — Wim Hof. The idea is to find internal ways of generating happiness: run, gaze at the sunset, hug trees, chant, hug, write. Behaviors that give us quick hits of pleasure-chemicals can act as pacifiers, keeping us just happy enough so we aren’t motivated to find what lights us up more deeply. The idea is to “do the work”: to craft a life filled with real nourishment a.k.a. “good food.” Drugs aren’t inherently bad or good, but I want to use them infrequently and with thoughtful intention, not impulsively as an avoidance or coping mechanism.
- “I try to be available for life to happen to me” — Bill Murray. I read somewhere that a good story gives the reader what they want, but not in the way they expect. We want neither robotic living, nor total chaos. Setting narrow goals isn’t inherently bad, but if I set too many, then my life will become a list of tourist destinations to check off, rather than a serendipitous evening of rollerskating under the stars, with a new friend who is blasting music and handing out Coronas (true story). So instead of setting rigid goals, set broad intentions (tarot cards and vision boards are useful, here). Setting intentions = glueing words to the top of my mind. These words act as magnets, attracting things from the universe that align with them. Once I know my general intentions, I can become available “for life to happen to me,” open to finding things that are both amazing and surprising. A lot of the magic of life is in moments like the rollerskating story, moments we could never have planned and predicted, moments that make us exclaim: “How did I get here?” Being open to finding, then, may be just as important as seeking.
- “There are always flowers, for those who want to see them.” — Henry Matisse. Yes, there will always be depressing stuff in life, and our brains are evolved to pay attention to this dark channel preferentially. However, there’s also always an AND. A cool breeze. A part of the body that doesn’t hurt. A sunset. A majestic tree. It takes will to want to see this AND. It takes will to go for a walk, after a long day. I want to be the sort of the person who strives to see the AND as much as I can. I want to be someone who takes a photo of something beautiful every day. Who reviews the highs of each day. A person who wants to see the flowers, who wants to love life, no matter what else is going on. This doesn’t mean avoiding the negative. It means working to keep my perspective balanced by consciously putting my attention on the positive.
- “Live in the middle.” Of course we know all about the middle way from Buddha and the Greeks, but the profound joy of this philosophy clicked in my mind during a conversation with a colleague, who said: “I live in the middle. I’m not the prettiest, and not the ugliest. Not the fattest, and not the skinniest. I’m pregnant and have high blood pressure. But it’s not the highest. I’m not a doctor, and not a nurse. I’m a MID-level. Have a fantastic evening. Wait, no, have a pretty good evening.” All my life I think I’ve been subconsciously striving to “be the best.” Our culture glorifies the “exceptional” folks — the Musks and the Gogginses of the world. Our culture doesn’t glorify the middle. But guess what? Mostly, that’s where we land. And that’s beautiful. From now on, I’m going to embrace living in the middle. I can already feel the pressure melting away.
- “Life may be sweeter for this, I don’t know. See how it feels in the end.” — Jerry Garcia. There’s an old Chinese story about a man losing a horse. When people come to the farmer to express sympathy, he says: “Good…bad…I don’t know.” This story is a reminder that our concepts of “good” and “bad” are just opinions, not reliable truth. As Matthew McConoughey puts it: “In every red light there will eventually be a greenlight.” Taking this long view is an act of trust in the universe. When I was fired from my job, I thought in-the-moment that this was “bad.” I had a lot of resistance to changing fields. Fast forward many years later: I have landed on my feet in a new field where I am thriving. Looking back, I see that the firing led me to a much better career fit. We don’t ever really know the good or the bad in absolute sense. We always have potential for post-traumatic growth. Life may be sweeter for this, we don’t know. Let’s see how it feels in the end.
- “You are partly right.” This is a mantra to say to myself whenever I catch myself seeing myself, or another, as all good or all bad.