“Life is the only game in which the object of the game is to learn the rules.”
– Ashleigh Brilliant
If I asked you to tell me what you’ve learned so far to have the best, happiest, most successful life, what advice would you give me? What are the rules (or rules of thumb) you’ve learned in your 20,30,50, 80 years of life?
I’ve been getting a lot of emails on the subject lately, and I’ve struggled to answer the question myself. What really matters in life? What really makes you happy?
So I went back to the basics. I thought a lot about my own life and wrote down the principles I use to guide everything I do. I then wondered – were there any studies on the subject? I was happy to find that there was. So, these aren’t just my rules – these are rules that research also shows can improve your life.
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it starts with love.
References at the bottom of article.
Life Rule #1: Love
Why not? In addition to the good experiences (as well as the ups and downs!) that come with love, research shows that individuals involved in loving relationships have additional benefits such as:
- Fewer Doctor’s Visits
- Lower Blood Pressure
- Less Anxiety
- Better Stress Management
- Fewer Colds
- Faster Healing
- Longer & Happier Life
Life Rule #2: Live With Purpose
Don’t just exist – really live your life with purpose because research shows:
- People are happier with they have meaning in their life: a belief in something bigger than themselves – from religion, spirituality or a philosophy of life.
- Live working towards goals that are aligned with our needs, values and identity (self-concordant goals). When pursuing self-concordant goals our sense of satisfaction (happiness) increases.
- And while we’re on the subject, write down your goals
Not sure of your purpose? Searching for meaning? You should pick up a copy, free, of personal development 101 – it’s the first thing you’ll learn. You could pay coaches hundreds of dollars for the same lessons.
Life Rule#3: Be Grateful
- According to Robert Emmons, Ph.D., psychology professor and researcher, University of California, Davis “Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular physical examinations.”
- Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.
Need a reminder? Check out this start page: Be Grateful
Life Rule #4: Laugh
Not only is it enjoyable and a way to socially bond (which has its own benefits), research shows laughter has a number of direct health benefits:
- Strengthening your immune system
- It may reduce food cravings (who hasn’t eaten just because they’re bored?)
- Can increase your threshold for pain.
- Is linked to healthy function of blood vessels
Life Rule #5: Sing
If you’re like me, you enjoy singing just for the sake of singing. That’s not the only benefit though, you may also experience:
- Increased happiness
- Faster Healing
- Improved immune function
- Pain relief
Singing with a group is even more beneficial due to the social interaction it provides – and truth be told, some of my happiest memories are the days I spent playing music with the bands I was in.
Life Rule #6: Spend Time With Your Friends and Family
Well, for starters you’ll (hopefully) enjoy their company. Research also shows:
- Friendship can ward off germs. Our brains control many of the mechanisms in our bodies which are responsible for disease.Just as stress can trigger ill health, it is thought that friendship and happiness can have a protective effect.
- Friendship has a much bigger effect on average on happiness than income itself
- Call your parents – research shows happiness for both children and parents is strongly linked to this relationship.
Life Rule #7: Forget About The Money (Well, Sort of )
Money certainly matters – but it does not increase happiness after a certain point. Consider the following:
- Catherine Sanderson, a psychology professor at Amherst College notes that we’re never satisfied. “We always think if we just had a little bit more money, we’d be happier, but when we get there, we’re not.”
- “Once you get basic human needs met, a lot more money doesn’t make a lot more happiness,” notes Dan Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard University
Life Rule #8: Dance
- A study at Laban college indicated dance had a positive effect on physical fitness and psychological wellbeing
- Dance is a very good exercise for heart patients compared to other aerobic exercises like cycling. They also noted patients enjoyed it much more
- A study in New York in 2003 has shown that cognitive activities like crosswords help ward off dementia but, but physical exercise didn’t – except for ballroom dancing.
And of course, there are social benefits associated with meeting people dancing =)
(Source: Wikipedia, Benefits of Dance)
Life Rule #9: Give
- When we do something fun, our happiness is fleeting, but when give, and help another person, that happiness lasts.
I discussed this at length in an article: about altruism as a key to happiness
Life Rule#10: Eat Your (Green) Vegetables
- Calorie for calorie, green vegetables are about as good as it gets.
- They are high in fiber, high in a number of nutrients
- Consumption of green vegetables has been linked to everything from improved immune systems to helping ward off heart disease to longer life.
- The best ones? Kale, Spinach and Broccoli.
- Health Benefits of Love
- BBC The science of happiness
- PDF – Is it possible to become happier, and stay that way?
- Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness
- University of Maryland School of Medicine Study Shows Laughter Helps Blood Vessels Function Better
- Singing for Health and Happiness
- BBC The science of happiness
- Can Money Buy Happiness?
- Green Leafy Vegetables – Nutritional Powerhouses
- PDF – The New Science of Happiness
- Altruism as a key to happiness
It looks like Mark Twain may have got it right when he said:
“Dance like nobody’s watching;
Love like you’ve never been hurt.
Sing like nobody’s listening;
Live like it’s heaven on earth.”
To review, the 10 essential life rules I’ve found are:
- Live With Purpose
- Be Grateful
- Spend Time With Your Friends and Family
- Forget About The Money (Well, Sort of )
- Eat Your (Green) Vegetables
So go forward: Dance. Love. Sing. Live.
And listen to your mom: eat your vegetables.