To Be Happier, Write Your Own Set of Personal Commandments.

One of the most challenging—and most helpful and fun—tasks that I’ve done as part of my Happiness Project is to write my Twelve Personal Commandments. These aren’t specific resolutions, like make my bed, but the overarching principles by which I try to live my life.

It took me several months to come up with this list, and it has been very useful for me to have them identified clearly in my mind. It’s a creative way of distilling core values.

To get you started as you think about your own commandments, here are my Twelve Commandments:

1. Be Gretchen.
2. Let it go.
3. Act the way I want to feel.
4. Do it now.
5. Be polite and be fair.
6. Enjoy the process.
7. Spend out. (This is probably the most enigmatic of my commandments.)
8. Identify the problem.
9. Lighten up.
10. Do what ought to be done.
11. No calculation.
12. There is only love.

So how do you come up with your own list?

Consider phrases that have stuck with you.
When I look at my Twelve Commandments, I realize that five of them are actually quotations from other people. My father repeatedly reminds me to “Enjoy the process.” A respected boss told me to “Be polite and be fair.” A good friend told me that she’d decided that “There is only love” in her heart for a difficult person. “No calculation” is a paraphrase of my spiritual master St. Therese (“When one loves, one does not calculate”), and “Act the way I want to feel” is a paraphrase of William James.

Aim high and fight the urge to be too comprehensive.
I’ve found that my commandments help me most when I review them at least daily, to keep them fresh in my mind, and to do this, it helps to keep the list short and snappy. I suspect that Twelve Commandments is too much. Maybe I only need two, “Be Gretchen” and “There is only love.”

Think about what’s true for you.
Each person’s list will differ. One person’s commandment is to “Say yes,” another person’s commandment is to “Say no.” You need to think about yourself, your values, your strengths and weaknesses, your interests.

I’ve written about commandments in the past, and it’s fascinating to read other people’s commandments. For instance:

Do stuff.
Talk to strangers.
Stay in touch.
Make haste to be kind.
Dig deep.
Less is more.
Smaller.

Have you identified some of your own personal commandments? What are they? Please consider posting them. It’s so interesting to see what other people identify.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* I’m a huge fan of my friend Erin Doland’s terrific blog, Unclutterer—”daily tips about getting and staying organized.” Useful and funny. Who knew that clutter could be funny?

* Want a happiness quote in your email inbox every morning? Sign up for the Moment of Happiness. Subscribe here or email me at gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com.

  • Cara Heuser

    From my grandmother (whenever I just “couldn’t wait” for something): “Don’t wish your life away”

  • Sandra F.

    I love these! I own a law firm and have a toddler and a baby. I love “do it imperfectly.” I do my best and I think I do it well, but sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about all of the ways in which I could perfect my business practices and business model. I’ll take your advice and stop doing that! Sandra

    • http://www.theresaceniccola.com/ Theresa Ceniccola

      Oh, wonderful, Sandra! Please embrace imperfection – unless of course you are my lawyer and I’m on death row – in which case I want you to be painfully perfect:-)) But seriously – I find that when I adjust my expectations (especially about a clean house and kids with matching clothes) then I’m sooooo much happier!

  • Anne

    Here are the ones I jotted down. Surprisingly, they came rather quickly….but I know they will be tweaked the more I look at them!

    Be me.
    Enjoy the happy moments and sear them to memory.
    Don’t jump to conclusions.
    Learn something new.
    Highlight the positive, learn from the negative.
    This too shall pass.
    Allow yourself time alone.
    Follow your gut.
    Sometimes saying less is more.
    Fresh air always helps.
    Honor your relationships.
    Ask for what you want.

    • Caroline

      “Fresh air always helps” is definitely going to make it onto my list! Thanks for that!

  • http://bombtune.com Wells Baum

    Here are My 12 Commandments I try live by:

    1. Be curious.

    2. Connect the dots.

    3. Think different.

    4. Take bold action now.

    5. Stay excited.

    6. Don’t take it personally.

    7. Keep it simple.

    8. Have an opinion.

    9. Relax and let go.

    10. Show that you care.

    11. Get moving.

    12. Talk to people.

    Some of these principles I do every day, others I need to do more often. I expect these principles to evolve over the next few months.

  • Katy

    I just read your book and loved the 12 commandments idea! As I’ve been thinking about happiness and living the life I want for a while, these came quite easily and it was great to formalise them. For some of the wording I couldn’t better your snappy sentences so have used them in my own.

    Interestingly, there’s a big focus on decluttering and simplicity – I was tempted to consolidate the multiple commandments but actually I like each one on its own as it focuses on a different aspect.

    Some of mine seem to contradict the others too, but again each relates to a different approach, so “sleep on it” is for when I can’t decide what to do (if my gut isn’t telling me anything) and “do it now” is for when I’m trying to procrastinate!

    1. Be Katy. (thanks Gretchen)
    2. It’s all good.
    3. Sleep on it. (thanks to my Danish boyfriend for this – apparently it’s what many Danes say!)
    4. Do it now.
    5. Just start.
    6. Go with your gut.
    7. The one who dies with the most toys doesn’t win.
    8. One in, one out.
    9. Quality, not quantity.
    10. Sometimes you just have to put it in the bin.
    11. Housework and errands are exercise.
    12. There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. (if it’s pleasure then you shouldn’t feel guilty about it – thanks to my friend David for this one)

    Going to work on my resolutions now!

    • yeahmec

      sleeping on it is also my list.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ginfor Forrest D. Poston

    As one of my students said in a moment of hard-earned revelation, “You don’t answer the questions, you follow them.” (Goes with “Enjoy the process.” We focus too much on the concept of question, answer, done, which becomes frustrating when you realize that answer doesn’t equal done, only “next step, next question.” Once you realize that question equals quest, not answer, you’re able to enjoy the process….despite the frustration that still comes at times.

  • Chrs

    A friend of mine suggested that I read The Happiness Project, and I’m very glad that I did. Thank you for all you do, your continued dedication to this community and your small, everyday contributions to the happiness of other.

    My Words to Live by:

    To thine own self be true.

    Every problem has a solution.

    Sing.

    Get to the heart of the matter.

    Do it now.

    If it scares you, you are probably on the right track.

    Ask questions.

    Be kind, especially to yourself.

    Leave it better than you found it.

    Love must be shown to be felt.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love these. And I’m so happy to hear that my work resonates with you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/arden.greenspangoldberg Arden Greenspan-Goldberg

    Here goes

    Be the best me

    Be kind

    compassionate

    say awwwww a lot and mean it

    come from my heart filled with love

    step out of myself and rise above

    kiss and hug my husband everyday. I do without prompting!

    Receive and give lots of love and hugs, both verbal and physical from my husband and grown kids. I do and love them a ton!

    live between the lines, value life’s ambiguity.

    Love, like and acceptance myself and others.

    grow from the inside out!

  • Kelly

    Relish the transitions in life, they will happen regardless. (This was actually from a fortune cookie that I opened – so perfect for me!)

  • cindy

    Thats a great article I have some of my own to add:
    Don’t look at your circumstances, believe and see the positive end result
    help others to help yourself
    give an you shall recieve

  • RL from OZ

    Thanks for your fabulous book and your wonderful ideas for my life. Here are my ‘Commandments’
    1. Done is better than perfect
    2. Spend out
    3. Practice an attitude of gratitude
    4. Outer order contributes to inner calm
    5. Choose your battles
    6. Use your talents
    7. Do good Samaritan acts every day
    8. Be authentic
    9. Finish what you start
    10. Think rich
    11.“I’ve done my best and that is enough.”

  • laurie newyorkcity

    Thank you for your “commandments.” I am now 7 years sober and after reading the “Happiness Project.” and using my “Happy” journal everyday it really is helping with my recovery but my every day “happy” life. I finally feel HOPE, PRIDE in myself and love and forgiveness for myself. I am a writer and the book and other research has

  • laurie newyorkcity

    1. be patient & kind

    2. do at least 3X acts of kindness a week

    3. take care of my mind/body and soul.

    4. keep in touch with friends/family via any social networking site or by phone weekly

    5 dial down my Puerto Rican temper more

    6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions especially to mgt. or partners

    7. Respect and enjoy the beauty of spring and my garden

    8. Be grateful for my new home and living situation

    9. Pray more

    10. Right after an argument (when possible) no yelling, try to calm down , discuss & never go to bed angry

  • Karen

    Just finished your book The Happiness Project. I was inspired to read it after picking up The Encore Career Handbook and seeing your review. They are good companion books and both will serve me well as I set out on my new path toward personal fulfillment. In the process of developing my resolutions, I am reflecting on good advice I’ve received from friends and family over the years. One I’ll share has to do with how one responds to anger or criticism from others. The advice I received was to fast forward several years and reflect on how you would like to remember your response – did you respond by putting more fuel on the fire or did you help extinguish the fire with kindness? I guess this falls in the category of taking the higher road. It has served me well on numerous occasions.

  • JF

    Luv these too. Especially 9 hrs of sleep

  • Pingback: My Personal Commandments - Gabbing with Grace()

  • vgro

    I tell myself to sacrifice “perfection” for “quality” in all I do.

  • clint

    I’ve got mine narrowed down to three ( :
    1. Love
    2. Laugh
    3. Let Go

  • Rd

    My Personal Commandments:

    HONESTY
    Do not fear to be honest to yourself and to others. Honesty will always win, for yourself and for others. Nobody deserves to be lied to.

    FORGIVENESS
    We are all human. Forgiveness is the first step towards a peaceful future. Do not
    forget to forgive yourself.

    COURAGE
    Fear is your worst enemy. Strive to go past your fears. It takes courage to go past them, but there is no courage without fear.

    FAIRNESS
    Be fair: Seek to help both yourself and others. Remember win-win.

    FAMILY
    Family is the backbone of your life. Without them you would simply not be alive now. Give unconditional love and support to your family.

    HEALTH
    Honor your body, it is your temple. Without it you are nothing.

    MEANING
    Strive to find a meaning to your life. Remember that what will remain of you is what
    you will have brought to this world, not what you will have taken.

  • Jessica Sparkles

    It feels pretty good and might need a little tweaking as time goes on, but some of these are the phrases that pop up in my head the most when I need an internal boost. I like the idea of having them in a concise, mindful list..

    1. Be.
    2. Enjoy the moment, enjoy the journey.
    3. This is REAL.
    4. Let myself feel how I feel.
    5. New things can be new favorites.
    6. Choose Love and Faith.
    7. I believe in myself and I can handle it.
    8. I care, but not too much.
    9. There is only one thing and it is good.
    10. What is the value in this?
    11. Just try it.
    12. How does it get better than this? What else is possible?

    • MariaLunsford

      I can’t stress enough to myself how important #3 is! This is REAL!

  • Prithi Srikumar

    It was so inspiring to read through everyone’s commandments.
    Here are mine :)

    1. Be myself
    2. Relax and let go
    3. Strive to make each day a Happy one (regardless of the circumstances)
    4. Do what needs to be done (no point being miserable about it)
    5. Be positive (towards others and to yourself)
    6. Be grateful. Everyday.
    7. Do what is in your control (then let go)
    8. Health is Wealth.

    Love your articles Gretchen! I can’t believe I only came across this website now… Well better late than never!

  • Susanta

    Hi, This is very nice and inspired me to try my own as follows:-

    Put your best considering all alternative assumptions available and the result will take care by itself..

    Be Positive

    Experience counts

    Celebrate success

    Keep your eye & ear open always

    Take life as it comes

    Accept challenge and enjoy

    Be polite

    Pray

    Respect

    Control anger

    Live life fullest

  • Tracy

    Gretchen, I picked your book up at LAX on a return flight to Australia and read the whole thing non stop. It truly resonated with me. I am not ‘unhappy’ but believe I can benefit from putting a conscious effort into my own happiness – I had already started to some degree, but this gave me the framework I craved (very organised person I am!). I just sat down and created my own 12 Commandments, to kick things off:

    1. There is such a thing as ‘analysis paralysis’
    2. Listen to your parents
    3. Own only two types of things: those that are useful, and those that are beautiful. Anything else is just clutter.
    4. Don’t nag
    5. Value true friendships
    6. Do three things [this is my morning mantra: do 3 things before I have breakfast, makes for a happier evening!]
    7. Do a good job
    8. Change is as good as a holiday
    9. You can choose what you do, but not what you love to do [thanks Gretchen!]
    10. Exercise is medicine
    11. Practice intimacy
    12. Health is wealth
    They are each very important to me – it was surprising how quickly they came to me, which I think shows how close to the surface they were. Thanks for the kickstart Gretchen :)

    • gretchenrubin

      So happy to hear that my work resonates with you! What a great list.

  • Tara V Foos

    11 Commandments of Tara

    “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde

    Don’t rehearse negative outcomes

    The only person I can change is myself, “ Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves.” ~Leo Tolstoy

    Never too hungry, never too tired, never too cold.

    Do without expectation

    “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done, than regret the things I haven’t done.” Lucille Ball

    Gratitude is the secret of life: “Be thankful for what you have: you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on wht you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” ~Oprah Winfrey

    “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same amount of time as Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo Divinci, and Albert Einstein.

    “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” ~Voltaire

    “Fear is stupid, so are regrets.” ~Marilyn Monroe

    Make everything beautiful

  • A.

    Great list! My personal overall resolution is this:
    Talk less, say more.

  • Michael Teferi

    Gretchen Rubin,

    Thank you so much for being a writer about Happiness and beyond. I aspire to be of help to others via the field of Psychology (my educational background) and more, including my aspirations to become a writer such as yourself.

    I really like and appreciate the value of Personal Commandments. My own Personal Commandments are a mixture of quotations from other people alongside those of my own creation. Here are Twelve Commandments I identify with:

    Be the change you wish to be in the world.
    Enjoy the process.
    Inspiration, Realization, Action.
    There is always more to people and life than meets the eye.
    Live with a peaceful heart and warrior spirit.
    Every type of relationship is based on mutuality.
    Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.
    Try to be as open-minded towards others and yourself as you can because you’ll never be able to truly live life otherwise.
    Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.
    The language of the heart knows no limits, no boundaries, no hindrances.
    Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.
    If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

    Sincerely

    Michael Teferi
    mteferi24@gmail.com

  • Anie

    I came up with mine earlier this year (during a very difficult time in my life, which is still not resolved) but this strategy has helped me to focus on a positive way of tackling those ‘unhappy days':
    – Light a candle
    – People can only give what they have to give
    – Wear clothes that make me happy
    – Make mistakes
    – Start where I am
    – Forgive myself
    – Be proud of my achievements
    – Eat more fish
    – Do stuff!
    – Smile at a stranger
    – Learn more
    – Hug more

    Thank you for coming up with such a simple – but good – plan! :)

  • Tina

    I have just recently came across your site through DailyGood.org. I love your post about the 12 personal commandments. It truly has inspired me to create my own list for daily living. Moreover, you have a great and inspiration site that i will visit more often than not.

  • Pingback: Simplify | Failing Joyfully()

  • Dande Goh

    1. Be happy
    2. Be confident
    3. Talk to people
    4. Dont waste time on things that will not have any impact on my life
    5. Plan your time but expect the unexpected
    6. Conserve, recycle

  • Jules

    1. Be Me

    2. Let It Go

    3. Be Nice to Myself and those Around Me

    4. Feed Your Mind, Body and Soul, not Your Mouth

    5. Life is an Adventure, Dare It

    6. Think Happy and You Will be

    7. Less is More

    8. Be Present

    9. Don’t Settle for anything short of Amazing

    10. Hug More, Love More, Smile More

    11. Enjoy the Ride

    12. Make the Days Count

  • Anna

    I especially like this one – Before I speak consider: Is it true, is it helpful, is it necessary.
    I might ‘borrow’ it for my own list ;)

  • Eva

    I have fourteen :) Thanks to all for the great inspiration!

    1. Eva at first.
    2. Listen to your gut.
    3. Say no. Do not apologize.
    4. Live in the present.
    5. Do it now. Just start.
    6. Think big. Think rich.
    7. Be loving and kind.
    8. Be curious. Be interested. Ask.
    9. Choose sleep, fresh air and breathe deeply.
    10. Choose healthy food and physical activity.
    11. Speak less but clear and loud.
    12. Identify your fear and face it.
    13. Learn from those you admire.
    14. Enjoy the pleasure. Celebrate success.

  • Kamakshi

    Lovely Comments by all of you, here is mine that I wanted to share

    1.
    Take a tiny step.

    2.
    Let go.

    3.
    Forgive

    4.
    Be grateful

    5.
    Smile

    6.
    This too shall pass.

    7.
    Restart every time you fall.

    8.
    Accept yourself

    9.
    Live NOW.

    10.
    Accept Chaos

    11.
    Say I love you more often.

    12.
    Help others when you get an opportunity.

    • Bethany66

      1. Be grateful
      2. When in doubt, refer to commandment #1.
      3. Give
      4. Be Beth
      5. Put it where it belongs
      6. Show mercy
      7. Walk it out
      So far, this is what I got and it is right for me!

  • Jackie

    I started my year reading your book, so I´m starting my happiness project on February, I have not completed my commandments yet but here are the 6 I have:

    Be Jackie (it´s like yours because I identify with many situations in which I have to decide for others not for me, so thank you for these awesome commandment)
    Release myself from pressure, breathe.
    Listen then speak (this one is with people and myself after talking listen deep to your heart)
    Stay Active
    Everything has a lesson
    Find inspiration everywhere

    :)

  • Janita Boulton

    True love does not count the cost.

  • Suzie

    1. you cannot save people, you can only love them

    2. comparison is the thief of joy

    3. give freely

    4. more is not more

    5. cultivate from within

    6. there is no time like now

    7. you are one star in a whole galaxy

    8. just do it

    9. busy is better than bored

    10. count your blooming flowers, not your dying weeds

    11. fear is not valid

    12. stop apologizing

  • Dina

    Well I’m coming to this conversation much later but just came across this entry yesterday. So inspiring! Here’s my list and thank you for some of the commandments.

    1. Be Dina.
    2. Aim high and keep wide margins.
    3. Do it now / don’t be lazy.
    4. Speak the truth.
    5. Be playful.
    6. Sing your life. (thank you Morrissey)
    7. Keep good company.
    8. Listen.
    9. Be patient.
    10. Progress not perfection.
    11. Be humble.
    12. Offer love first.

  • KT

    1. Own it
    2. Work your quirks
    3. Kindness, gratitude and compassion can change your world and the world.
    4. Move your body, your strive on physical activity
    5. It is a journey
    6. People are people
    7. Done is better than perfect
    8. Most things are temporary
    9. Listen to the little voice
    10. What’s in it for me
    11. Everywhere you go there you are
    12. Keep it simple
    13. It is what it is
    14. Be kind to myself
    15. Be here now
    16. I alone am enough

  • mrosier

    Thanks for the inspiration. Here’s mine:
    Light a fire (Inspire)
    Be the change
    Celebrate
    Get it out of the way
    Challenge Yourself
    Don’t Settle
    Create
    Hold yourself accountable
    Have fun
    Enjoy Joy
    Be mindful
    Dig deep

  • louise

    I’ve been contemplating my own commandments list for a couple of months and have really appreciated so many ideas from others. Here is my happy list:
    Go outside
    Manage the day
    Do the small stuff
    Take care of myself
    Be kinder than necessary
    Look challenges straight in the eye
    Listen, respond, go deeper and wider
    Be here now (thanks to Baba Ram Das)
    Slow down and focus
    I am good enough
    Be seen
    Move forward with strength

  • Pingback: ​List Your Own "Personal Commandments" to Chart a Path to Happiness | KrazyWorks()

  • http://www.markoneill.org Mark O’Neill

    Treat others as you would want them to treat you.

    Remember you are mortal – live each day as if it is your last.

    Accept your flaws and accept you will never be perfect.

    Always lead an honest life – never steal, never lie, and always respect the police and the law.

    Don’t lose your temper as it makes a tense situation even worse. Always take a very deep breath.

    If it generates stress and illness, push it away. Aim for a state of total calmness in your life.

    If you are suffering, it is never shameful to ask for help.

    Laughter is the best medicine.

    Never live above your means. Be thankful for what you have.

    Try to find work you enjoy. It makes life a lot easier if you love what you do.

    There’s more to life than money and material possessions.

    Wake up once in a while and smell the roses.

    If it’s too good to be true, then it is.

    When failure strikes, swat it away instantly and try again. Look upon failure as a learning experience.

    Help those who are less fortunate than you. Give them a hand up rather than a handout.

    Never give a damn what others think of you – only what you think of yourself.

    Dare to be different. Conformity breeds uniformity.

    Let the past be in the past. Only care about today and the future.

    It is only human to err. Apologise and move on. Don’t overanalyse the situation.

    Always respect your elders. They are older, therefore wiser and more maturer. Learn from them.

    Violence is never the answer. Pity bullies and thugs, never descend to their level.

    Always remember that the most important people in life are family.

    Be intensely loyal to your friends. Stand by them no matter what.

    Accept fate. Never fight it as it’s going to happen anyway. That’s why it’s called fate.

    Shit happens.

  • Pingback: My 30 Life Rules For Better Happier Living - Wunderkammer()

  • Pingback: What Does Your Habits Manifesto Look Like?()

  • Pingback: What Does Your Habits Manifesto Look Like? - TDAH-ADHD FORUM()

  • Pingback: of Riches & Revelries | viayuri.com()