My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:
Where do I even start? There is so much to say, so much to share.
Let’s start with some guidelines for living a meaningful, happy, and rewarding life. As you may know, my Honors Thesis in college was entitled “Child Rearing Practices and Pro-Social Development” — how to raise children to be altruistic. That title alone should tell you something about my biases.
Allow me to make them explicit. The guidelines I am proposing are based on two assumptions or biases: (1) our lives are given meaning by helping others; and, (2) we should strive to live meaningful lives.
First, the path to happiness is to NOT chase those elusive things that make YOU happy. “Happiness” is an elusive and ephemeral creature. Further, selfishness and self-centerness are bottomless pits that can never be filled. If we give in to pleasing ourselves, we will find it an impossible task. Whatever measure of happiness we achieve by each new acquisition, each new achievement, etc., will be temporary at best.
What do I mean? Let me give you an example. Think about the last time you got a new toy or achieved something worthwhile. It made you happy, right? But, how long did it keep you happy? I am sure it was not long before you lust for the next “new” thing or experience.
Humans are psychologically wired to adapt. Thus, our appetite for the novel — new things, new experiences, new achievements, etc. — is insatiable. Each new acquisition will only bring momentary pleasure … until we adapt and the next new thing grabs our fancy. True happiness cannot lie there.
This leads me to my second bias: make your life mean something. We are surrounded and bombarded daily by frivolity. The frivolous has its moments and its purpose (e.g., to entertain and give you temporary respite from the mundane); however, it should not be the centerpiece of your lives. It should matter that for a brief moment you walked the Earth, and shared your lives, your sense of humor, your artistic talents, etc., with others. It would matter if your little corner of the world were made a bit better, a bit brighter, a bit more beautiful because you had lived.
Okay, below is a brief discussion about my proposed 10 guidelines for a meaningful, happy, and rewarding life. The basic framework is set forth here, but subsequent postings will flesh out the concepts. When we next meet, we can discuss the merits of my guidelines, or whether you think I am full of it.
1) Live for others. At the core of most major religion lie the twin concepts of expressing appreciation for God or whatever name is given to the Creator by that religion, and service to others. As briefly discussed above, this is a good and noble pursuit that will bringing you much happiness. Don’t just take my word for it. Psychologists have found support for the idea. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/happiness_for_a_lifetime/. As Dr. Lyubomirsky said in the article,
If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a month, get married.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody else.
— Chinese proverb
Part of this message is focus on the important things in life. People and relationships are the important stuff. Years from now, you will not remember which was your favorite jacket in first grade or your favorite Pokemon or Bakugan, but you will remember your best friend from that period, and that we used to go the beach often to play in the sand.
How you spend your day is how you will live your lives. Spend your days wisely, on matters of import, my sons. Be silly and enjoy life, but don’t be consumed by the frivolous. Live in the service of others.
2) Obey the Platinum Rule: treat others as THEY want to be treated (NOT as YOU want to be treated). Help others, but let their needs guide you and be not guided by what you think they need. Use your words. And, listen. We don’t do enough of that. Try to do more.
Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.
3) Mind what you say and do.
The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.
— William James
A wise man knows what not to say [… or do]
Roll your tongue seven times before you speak. Think of the purpose for which you make the utterance, and what you hope to achieve by it. Recall Father Dave’s three rules to guide what you say: is it kind? is it helpful? is it truthful?
Remember, though, we communicate with more than just our words. Our attire and our presence, for example, speak volumes. Think of all the times when you didn’t want to befriend someone because he or she dressed funny, or behaved badly. What you say or do says a lot about who you are. You are my sons. I want people to think well of you.
4) Think critically, but temper your critical analyses with your humanity. Critical analysis is the ONLY weapon against self-delusion. We are geared towards making sure others do not fool us, but we are less guarded against us fooling ourselves.
True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.
Don’t accept things at face value. Challenge the underlying assumptions. Ask questions. Pay attention to both what is said and what is NOT said. Examine the source of the data, and the authority from which the information offered. This is how you build a strong foundation of real knowledge.
Man is much more than a “rational being,” and lives more by sympathies and impressions than by conclusions. It darkens his eyes and dries up the wells of his humanity to be forever in search of doctrine.
— Woodrow Wilson, Ph.D., Litt.D., LL.D., “On Being Human”
5) Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. (You will study about the Trojan Horse one day, and will better understand this saying.) Don’t let others fool you. As a starting point of analysis, know that people act out of self-interest. Always ask: what’s his/her motive?
On occasions, you will find some people who may genuinely want to help you … only if it also serves their purpose. Beware such people. They present themselves as being altruistic, but are the opposite at heart.
On other occasions, you will find people who want to help you or others because it makes them feel good about themselves. There is nothing wrong with that. This is not a bad crowd to run with. (Be aware, though, that this group sometimes harbors those who help others because they think they are superior beings and there to help inferior beings. Their motives are suspect, and you can do better at finding friends.)
6) Be genuine. Be real.
Individuality is lost the moment you submit to passing modes of fashions…. No man is genuine who is forever trying to pattern his life after the lives of other people–unless, indeed, he be a genuine dolt…. It is a prerogative of every truly human being to come out of the low estate of those who are merely gregarious and of the herd.
— Woodrow Wilson, Ph.D., Litt.D., LL.D., “On Being Human”
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
— Abraham Lincoln
Why bother with false fronts? Be you. You are amazing people who have brought me much joy. I want the world to get to know the wonderful persons that you are.
7) Do what you love. If you do that, the rest of the good stuff will follow … prestige, fortune, etc.
Let me be clear: this is not about being self-indulgent. This is far from it. I mean follow your passion. If you hate numbers or the minutiae, then do not train to become an engineer or accountant. If you love words and language arts, then pursue law, teaching, or other noble professions that would enable to do what you love.
Let me also clarify here that I do not mean you should not take ANY math classes if you hate numbers, for example. Life is not about indulging in your temporary wishes and desires. You must be disciplined and do what is good for you even if you do not desire it at that moment.
A really smart friend of mine, for example, hated the conformity and discipline required of him by the educational system. He wanted to read what he wanted, do what he wanted, etc. Thus, he chose not to go to college after graduating from high school. As a result, for nearly a decade, he was consigned to low-paying and labor-intensive jobs reserved for the unskilled and poorly educated. During this period, his body took a beating, his back was injured, etc. After a while, he saw the wisdom in obtaining a college degree, and enrolled in a reputable institution. Thereafter, his life got better. He got office jobs and eventually earned a six-figure income. Had he buckled down and gotten a college degree earlier (even though he did not feel like it), his life and physical well-being would have been better earlier.
Do what you need to do. However, weave into it the things that make life beautiful and meaningful for you.
8) Surround yourself with good people and good influences. Avoid the bad crowd … always.
Excise bad elements from your life as if your life depended on it. It does. For example, you may know that Alvin has a felony drug conviction. He said he was only in the car with his friends, but was not otherwise involved. We weren’t there and don’t know what really happened, but it would have been best had he not be there at all. He is generally a good boy, but may have fallen in with bad “friends”.
Friends like those do not have your best interest at heart, and are not worthy of calling themselves your friends. Do better.
A 13 year old girl, who is wise beyond her years, recently said, “True friends tell what you are doing wrong to your face. False friends say it behind your back.”
If you are near ink, you will be stained. If you are near light, you will be enlightened.
— Vietnamese proverb
The field of psychology has a theory called the “Looking Glass Self” which posits that our self image and our sense of self come from feedback provided by those around us. http://www.popularsocialscience.com/2013/05/27/the-looking-glass-self-how-our-self-image-is-shaped-by-society/.
Surround yourself with good and positive people, my sons. Do not let negative or bad people bring darkness and evil into your lives. Stay clear of them, always.
9) Aspire for perfection. You can never reach perfection, but will find yourself improving along the way. Know, my sons, that there is inherent tension between being content and aspiring to improve yourself. The latter is not the path to contentment. However, I err on the side of the latter because that is how I was raised.
Accept that life is hard: it is a series of problems. No one promised you that life was going to be easy. Anyone who does is either a liar or a fool. But, life is worth fighting for, and it is worth it to try to be the best that you could be.
Many lose themselves in drugs, television, etc., because they do not want to face life. I ask that you not do that. Embrace life. Travel. Meet people. Read books. Make music. Create art. See and experience all the wonders that life has to offer. You will find that approach much more rewarding and much more likely to bring you sustained happiness than parking yourself in front of the television or game console for hours at a time.
10) Be thankful. This is a necessary ingredient for your happiness. Yes, you should always strive to better yourself, but that does not mean you cannot be grateful for the dry roof over your head, a family that loves you, true friends who care for you, your health, your talents, clean air that do not burn your lungs, clean water that quenches your thirst, a cool breeze that cools your skin, sea air and sand that bring you joy, etc.
However you live, the overarching guideline is that you should not shame the family name. You know what is right and wrong. You do not need to have every rule spelled out for you. Live by your moral code, even if others do not or even if your conducts are neither prescribed nor proscribed by law.
Only a child does something he knows is wrong, then defends his actions by saying no one told him NOT to do it. Leave your childish ways behind as you journey towards becoming the wonderful men you will be. You are young today, but you will not be young forever.
In the end, you have but one life to live, my sons. Make it count. I wish you all the happiness in the world. Although “Be Happy” is found NOT among the 10 bullet points, I believe these guidelines will bring you happiness and a fulfilling life.
I wish I could be there to catch you every time you fall, to warn you every time you are about to err, etc. But, in truth, I would do you a great disservice if I did that. You learn from your mistakes. You discover your strengths and weaknesses each time you fall. In that way, you will grow and be strong physically and mentally. It would be wrong of me to deny you the opportunities to learn and grow from your mistakes and become your best selves.
All my love, always,