My personal commandments

I recently finished the Happiness Project. I haven’t completely decided how I want to approach it, but I definitely want to try applying some of the same framework for myself. To start out, I brainstormed my own personal commandments; these are the overarching principles that I live my life by. Some are part of my core personality that I wanted to underline, while others are things I want to strive for. I decided to narrow it down to ten: there’s precedence; it’s a nice, round number,  and I wanted to make myself really think about the ones I chose.

I was so pleased when I first came up with my list and thought I was done after just a few drafts – so I took a photo and published it on Instagram:

While writing this post, I changed my mind, rearranged, consolidated, and pared it down even further.  Here’s the final version:

  1. Be Hannah
  2. Act the way I want to feel
  3. Prioritize myself
  4. Be present
  5. Lean in
  6. Explore
  7. Go outside
  8. Do it now
  9. Cherish the memories
  10. Why not?

Be Hannah

This is taken directly from the Happiness Project. One of the examples in the book is when the author wants to read literature, but realizes she loves children’s novels more – you love what you love, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I need to remember to be myself.

Act the way I want to feel

If you think you’re happy, then you are happy. That’s certainly how it works for me. I have a bad habit of getting wrapped up in things that annoy me, or make me feel angry – sure, those feelings are real, but I can choose to dig myself out of it. Let it go already. I need to do that more often by choosing to act the way I feel.

The quote by Eleanor Roosevelt has always resonated with me:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

This goes a step beyond acting the way I want to feel, and it covers situations where my emotions react to an event. Someone on the train is playing loud music? That can lead me to think that they’re rude, which can make me angry. That anger stays with me for quite a while – it’s hard to shake, even if I want to act the way I feel. I recognize that my anger comes from my interpretation of the situation – while the other person may be inconsiderate, I’m the one who chooses to become angry. I’m responsible for my own feelings in this case.

Prioritize myself

I struggled with the wording of this. “Put myself first” sounded so self-serving, so greedy, and so selfish.  I realized that I don’t need to be first, but I need to not be at the bottom of the list.  This covers everything from learning more about breathing and meditation, to making sure I get time to myself when I need it. I’m important, and I need to be a priority.

Be present

This is something that I’ve gotten progressively worse at: I’m always distracted, thinking of the next thing, instead of enjoying the moment. It’s not fair to myself – nor to whoever I happen to be sharing that moment with. I want to be fully engaged in what’s happening right now, not worrying about tomorrow’s problems.

Lean in

This is originally from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, but I believe the term is slowly changing. For me, it means leaning into the group, helping each other, being ready to help support others. I take it to mean being ready when someone needs something, but also acting as a soundboard or even occasionally a mentor.

This also represents “listening”. I can help by listening, asking about the other person’s story, rather than jumping in with a “me, too!”


I almost put “take the road less traveled,” here, as that’s always been one of my guiding principles.  Taking the more unusual route has always worked out well for me. But “explore” is bigger. It’s about new experiences, from travel all the way to learning new things. It’s about never settling for just what I know, and always wanting to know what’s over that next hill.

Go outside

The world is such a beautiful, amazing place. Even just wandering around my current town is a treat that I don’t always remember to take advantage of. I get so wrapped up (as you seeing a theme, yet?) in this digital world that I forget what rain on my face feels like, or the peace of walking through the forest.

Do it now

I am a most proficient procrastinator.

Dishwasher needs emptying? I have more important things to do. I sometimes spend more energy avoiding the task at hand than if I’d just done it in the first place. Getting simple things done makes me feel accomplished.

That epic destination? We’ll get there someday.  How many somedays do we really have? Better to make it happen now, rather than endlessly put it off.

Cherish the memories

Life has so many awesome moments. It’s important to keep track of them through photos and other collections, so that I can continue to savor them years down the line.  I can hope that one day, I may get to shown grandchildren photos of our five year anniversary trip to Iceland from way back in 2017.

Why not?

This has become another of my guiding principles over the years. Move to Stockholm? Sure, why not? Move in with a person I’ve never met? Sure, why not? Toss my current career to work from home and support WordPress? Let’s go!

Asking “why” often involves pulling together lots of different arguments. “Why not” is far more of a “as long as nothing huge is blocking, let’s go!” It’s a spontaneity, and a refusal to other-think.

How about you? Have you thought out your own personal commandments?

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