Learning about life is one thing, but it’s how you actually live your life that matters. Philosophers throughout history have offered guidance and theories about the importance of living a joyful and meaningful life. And after recently hearing yet another commencement speaker extol the philosophical virtues of living “a good life” without providing any actual lessons for students to put into action, we were inspired to write this list of 10 lessons about life and love that you can actually start living right now.
Here they are:
1. First thing each morning, remind yourself of the dreams you hold dear.
Having dreams is vitally important. They remind you of what you value and motivate you to strive and grow each day. A day without a dream is, for most people, a bad day. Charley’s life experience of growing up in poverty in a small, rural farming community of central Missouri (without, as his Mother used to say, “A pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of,”) reminds us of the power of a dream! Frankly, we cannot imagine where our lives would be if back then we didn’t nurture big dreams of achieving far beyond what others thought possible for kids growing up in small towns and in big cities.
2. Seek happiness in your life.
Make your happiness, and the happiness of the ones you love, a major life goal. As love and marriage experts, we have interviewed thousands of successfully married couples (in all 50 USA states, 49 countries, 9 of 10 Canadian provinces, and on all seven continents of the world over these past 32+ years) and in every instance, each marvelous couple wants the same thing— to secure happiness. Happiness is not a frivolous pursuit. Never forget that! It is the primary goal of nearly every rational person.
3. Success in life and love has little to do with luck.
Sorry, but after three decades of doing love and marriage work together, evidence suggests there is no such thing as luck! Is education and deliberate effort luck? Is the development of good moral character luck? Is working three jobs to provide for your family luck? Is marrying the right person luck? Our answer to these questions is a resounding NO! To suggest that life is all about luck is to minimize the relentless hard work people invest each day to secure a better future. Put your faith in human beings who work hard to achieve the success they desire. Success has little to do with luck.
4. Your partner defines who you are as a person.
Making decisions about whom to love, marry, and spend your life with speaks volumes about you as a person. Do not make these decisions lightly. People are defined by what they love. So, love well. Love the right person. Analyze very carefully your decision before you make it, but understand this — loving and marrying the right person might very well be the most important decision you will make in your life. Proceed with great care.
5. Good health is essential to a happy life.
Let’s be clear, to have a happy life and healthy relationships you must do what’s required to sustain a healthy mind and body. As we have written frequently over the years, one of the 7 Secrets of a Successful Marriage is this: “long-time successfully married couples care about each other’s health and do their best to promote good health in each other. They know that the way you emote, your anxiety, your productivity, and your ability to engage in a loving relationship, are all affected by what you put into your mouth (or do not!) and how you maintain the health of your body — both mentally and physically. Successfully married couples long ago recognized that you must manage your mind and mood through food, exercise, and healthy living.”
6. Engage in an acts of kindness daily.
Be nice to those you meet. Give a compliment or two. Overtip the waitress or waiter. Wave a person at the supermarket through the crosswalk in front of you. Let someone with a smaller cart of groceries go ahead of you in line. Return ugliness from someone with a smile and a “Have a nice day!” The simple truth is this — people are measured by how they react to adversity and to those who are unkind. It is easy to engage in “road rage.” It is far harder to control yourself when offended, chastised, belittled, and treated unfairly. As the British might say, “Stiffen that upper lip!” Or as our mothers used to say, “It’s okay to turn the other cheek.” Life is full of confrontations between nice people and angry or unkind people. Make it your goal to be a good person — a decent person — a nice person. Your life and the lives of those you love will be happier because of it.
7. Embrace diverse points of view.
Be willing to listen to and consider points of view different from your own. Let’s face it, it’s easy to get angry when someone disagrees with us. We like to be right. In modern America, it is increasingly difficult to have civil conversations. Too many people live by the mantra “my way or the highway” but the willingness to compromise is a crucial life and relationship skill. As Charley’s mother used to say, “Life is too short!” meaning— if you spend your life arguing about every little thing and if you spend your life outright rejecting the perspective of others, you will be a miserable human being. Try your best to talk less and listen more. It is impossible to hear the messages of others if you do all the talking.
8. Don’t be a bully.
Intimidating others (especially those with less power than you) is nothing to be proud of. Never allow yourself to be guilty of shouting down another human being. Life and love are a lot more fun when you treat others with respect. If you don’t respect the opinions of the ones you purport to love, if you shut down the opinions of others, if you try to bully others into submission, you will ultimately lose in the game of life. Nobody likes a bully!
9. Live your life as an inspiration to others.
Be a positive role model, be a teacher. Great teachers inspire, they offer insights, they make us laugh and cry, they change our lives in meaningful and measurable ways, and they make us better people. At the start of each day, recommit yourself to being a person who seeks to inspire others, who offers helpful insights into life, and share the knowledge you possess with others. Teachers care. Let yourself care, too! Share your love, share your knowledge, share things that matter in life.
10. Life is a journey, be engaged.
Charley’s mother used to say, “If you woke up this morning, you know it’s the start of a good day!” In many ways, life is like a baseball game. There is no clock. One inning of life leads into another. Sometimes you win the game, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you go into “extra innings.” No matter the outcome, you play the game for better or worse. In life and love what matters most is that you suit up, show up, and play the game of your life. Get involved. Go all in. Choose to be fully engaged in each moment of living and loving. There is nothing else like it.
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