10 Life Rules to Follow No Matter Your Age

Whether you’re 20 or 120, the author’s surprise-filled guide can help most anyone live happily ever.

If, like me, you have recently entered that period of life known as middle age, take heed: The building years of your life are over, and what you are now is pretty much what you are going to be. Soon it will be what you were. You can no longer tell yourself that you might move to Lisbon, learn Portuguese, and take up the guitar. But you can follow a set of simple rules to guide you the rest of the way. Best of all, these rules work no matter what your age and stage of life.

First and foremost, be kind.

Mean is easy; kind is hard. Once we reached eighth grade, many of us got the idea that the nasty put-down, the superior smile, and the clever one-liner are the signs of intelligence and great personal strength. But this kind of wit is, to borrow from the writer John Scalzi, “playing the game on easy mode.” Making yourself feel bigger by making someone else feel small takes so little skill that 12-year-olds can do it.

Always order one extra dish—an unfamiliar one—at a restaurant.

You might like it, which would be splendid. If you don’t like it, all you lost was a couple of bucks. If you can’t afford to order that one extra dish, then the restaurant is too expensive for your budget anyway and you should find a cheaper one.

Give yourself permission to be bad.

You know what you’re really good at? Things you’ve done many times before. Mastery is boredom. Unfortunately, we enjoy feeling like masters; we hate feeling like idiots. So we keep ourselves bored in order to protect ourselves from feeling stupid. This is a bad trade (and not the sort of bad I’m talking about).

Go to the party even when you don’t want to.

Nine times out of ten, you’ll be bored and go home early. But the tenth time, you will have a worthy experience or meet an interesting person. It will more than redeem those other wasted hours.

Don’t just pay people compliments; give them living eulogies.

Tell them exactly how fantastic they are, in how many ways. Embarrass them. Here’s a funny thing I’ve learned: No matter how many times you hear them, the words “You are amazing, and here’s why” never go out of style.

That thing you kinda want to do someday? Do it now.

I mean, literally, pause reading this column, pick up the phone, and book that skydiving session. RIGHT NOW. I’ll wait. Don’t put it off until you have the time to really relax and enjoy it. That will be approximately three decades from now, and it’s highly possible you won’t be able to enjoy it. I will never forgive myself for passing up a chance to go to trapeze school in my late 20s. I figured I could always do it later, little knowing that in my early 30s my lower back would decide to take up amateur dramatics. At least somebody got to perform.

a woman ready to shoot out of a cannon with a bouquet of flowersGoncalo Viana for Reader's Digest

Tone down the cynicism.

At some point in life, we get the idea that believing in things—art, politics—makes you a sucker and that “being real” means accepting how rotten to the core everything is. True, there is a lot of rottenness in the world. But cynicism is radically incomplete. In fact, human beings are often splendid, the world is often glorious, and nature, red in tooth and claw, also invented kindness, charity, and love. Believe in that.

Don’t try to resolve fundamental conflicts with loved ones.

The only people who win marital arguments about bedrock values are divorce lawyers. I mean, you wouldn’t say, “I have a free hour; I bet I could solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and still have time for a spot of tennis!” So why do you try to use the same hour to convince your spouse that potato salad should have pickles in it? Unless it is an existential threat to your future (out-of-control spending, wants/doesn’t want kids, abuse), leave it alone. On your deathbed, your spouse and friends will be there, holding your hand. The dream house you’re dying to buy will not be.

Be grateful.

No matter how awful your life seems at the moment, you have something to be grateful for: You have been granted 2 billion seconds on this planet, give or take. You are a billionaire! Many billionaires, however, squander most of their fortunes on ­bitter recriminations about how unfair everything is. You won’t get a refund from the universe for the time you spent brooding about the unfairness. You lose those seconds just as surely as you lose a second spent experiencing joy, only they don’t even give you something nice to remember them by.

Always make more dinner rolls than you think you can eat.

For some reason, dinner rolls loom much larger in our imaginations than in our ­stomachs.

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