Source: NeedPix, Public Domain
Amid the information overload, it may help, even at the risk of reductionism, to offer a super-distillation of the advice on how to live life.
So, as a thought experiment, I reflected on my 1,538 How To Do Life posts here on PsychologyToday.com to identify what, for each of life’s seven core components, is the single idea that has been most helpful across the 5,700 career and personal advising clients I’ve had the privilege of serving. Here they are:
Musts more than passion. More than following their passion or even using their core skills or degrees, my clients have been most likely to find career contentment by pursuing work that meets as many basic career attributes as possible: decent pay, reasonable commute, good boss and co-workers, ethical work, and learning opportunities. And those are more likely to be found away from the madding crowd that’s fighting for the few such jobs in fields that many people are passionate about: sports, music, the environment, fashion, and politics.
Accept or leave. As any psychotherapist or relationship counselor knows, foundationally changing a person is difficult. More often, romantic partners and even close platonic friends are wise to, yes, work on some self-improvement, for example, reducing or eliminating substance abuse, being neater around the house, and listening better, but more, to accept each other’s fundamental nature, for example, sex drive, work ethic, and intelligence. If you find a person’s foundational characteristics anathema, perhaps after a bit of effort at improvement, it may be wise to cut your losses. There are many fish in the sea and sometimes, swimming solo is wisest of all.
Save on housing and on higher education. By far, those are most people’s largest expenses and, fortunately, there are ways to save big on both with little or no decrement to your life.
Regarding housing, one way to save a fortune is to buy or rent in a dicey neighborhood. With just reasonable precautions, you’re about as safe as in a neighborhood that can cost vastly more. Over a lifetime, the savings can easily be in six if not seven figures.
Regarding higher education, yes, brand-name matters but that must be viewed only as a plus, not a dispositive factor. Sure, if you can get into Harvard or Stanford, you probably should go. But otherwise, as an undergraduate, it can be wise to start and perhaps finish an a community college, or return there for post-bachelor’s career training. At community colleges, instructors are hired and promoted mainly on their teaching ability not on arcane research productivity. That get you a better education at much lower cost. Yes, a degree from a community college or from No-Name State may require you to make more effort to land a good job, but that effort can well be worth the fortune in savings on higher education expenses.
Suppress and distract. Easy problems can be thought through, processed. But most emotional problems that send people to the therapist are quite recalcitrant. Of course, severe mental illness should be addressed by a professional, but garden-variety anxiety and angst may well be addressed by suppression: After briefly considering if there’s a solution, it may be best to suppress the anxiety-causing thought and distract yourself. Instead of self-absorption, focus on your work, helping others, creative outlet, etc. That tends to atrophy the mental neurons associated with the anxiety-causing thoughts. I have not found the adage true that suppression results in only short-term benefit, that like in Whack-a-Mole, if you push down one problem, two pop up elsewhere.
Within limits, accept your body. 95 percent of dieters gain all the weight back and often more, and yo-yoing is dangerous. Unless you’re morbidly obese, it may be wise to accept the weight your body seems to want to be, its so-called set point. Yes, try to moderate your eating but forgive yourself the occasional cheat. You’ll probably end up healthier and happier, not caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of feeling deprived or feeling guilt-ridden.
Focus on creative outlet. Too many people’s core recreations involve alcohol or drug abuse. I so wish that more of them would find their pleasure in creative outlet: whether acting, music, art, writing, comedy, magic, whatever, solo or as part of a team. Even if you’re not creative, a behind-the-scenes role such as stage manager for a community theater, researcher or editor for an author, crew assistant on a sailboat, or roadie for a band can be great fun without violating your body.
The life well-led
Focus on contribution. I’ll admit that my own behavior is extreme—I work 60 to 70 hours a week and wouldn’t have it any other way. I do that because I’ve become convinced that the life well-led is about maximizing contribution. Sure, I enjoy watching movies, playing ball, and hanging out as much as the next person, but I force myself, yes force myself, for said 60 to 70 hours a week, to prioritize contribution over pleasure. While it’s unrealistic of me to expect most of you to do the same, I couldn’t write an article on my top tips without mentioning that one.
Those are my top seven. Are there any that you want to add to your list?
I read this aloud on YouTube.