Five Tips for Creating Your Own Set of Happiness Commandments

Five Tips for Creating Your Own Set of Happiness Commandments

Gretchen Rubin

Five Tips for Creating Your Own Set of Happiness Commandments

Posted September 5, 2007 | 02:40 PM (EST)

Yesterday, I posted examples of happiness commandments to inspire folks who’d like to write their own set. For example, here are my Twelve Commandments:

1. Be Gretchen.

2. Let it go.

3. Act as I would feel.

4. Do it now.

5. Be polite and be fair.

6. Enjoy the process.

7. Spend out.

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 think about coming up with your own list?


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 St. Therese, and “Act as I would feel” is a paraphrase of William James.

So pay attention. What words repeat themselves in your ear? What was the offhand comment that you’ve found unforgettable? “No deposit, no return” is nothing more than a sign on a soda machine, but if it’s a memorable and powerful phrase for you, go with it.


When I was working on my biography of Churchill, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, I was repeatedly struck by the literary quality of his life — how rich it was in symbols, foreshadowing, motifs, all the elements of the novel.

I came to believe that this was true of my life, too, I just wasn’t paying attention. As Keats wrote, “A Man’s life of any worth is a continual allegory — and very few eyes can see the Mystery of his life…a life like the scriptures, figurative.”

Some people’s commandments can be better expressed through metaphor. Consider Howell Raines’ commandments, from Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis:

“Rule One: Always be careful about where you fish and what you fish for and whom you fish with.

Rule Two: Be even more careful about what you take home and what you throw back.

Rule Three: The point of all fishing is to become ready to fly fish.

Rule Four: The point of fly fishing is to become reverent in the presence of art and nature.

Rule Five: The Redneck Way and Blalock’s Way run along the same rivers, but they do not come out at the same place.”

This might be true for you.


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.”

After all, Jesus got down to two commandments. When asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40.


Each person’s list will differ. A reader commented yesterday that ‘say yes” would be a terrible addition to his commandments, because he tends to over-commit. For another person, ‘say yes” might be at the top of the list. You need to think about YOURSELF, your values, your strengths and weaknesses, your interests.


Take your time. It took me months to come up with my Twelve. This takes some reflection.

If you come up with your own set, please consider posting them. I’m sure it would be very valuable for me and other readers to be able to see them. Seeing other people’s commandments helps clarify what your own commandments need to be.

If you’d like to read more about happiness, check out Gretchen’s daily blog, The Happiness Project.