How to live the good life

Author: Garrett Lang, 2016-current. Feel free to share this link with others if you find this advice useful. I welcome notes with suggestions to improve this list and feedback of any sort (positive or negative).

A Life Philosophy

Living the good life requires defining what is “good” and “evil,” and striving to live the “good” life. In this paper I attempt to define both:

  1. The definition of “Evil” (to be avoided whenever possible)
  2. What is the definition of good (the earlier numbered items)
  3. How to live a “good” and “happy” life (guidelines to live by)

Note the advice below is in priority order, so when there is a conflict between two items (there will be), the one with the lower number takes priority…

Good

  1. “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” — The Buddha

Note that I also don’t want you to believe anything I say unless you find value in it, which is the reason this quote is first. That said, I advise you be open to new ideas that may resonate with you… I may have some that do.

  1. Don’t do evil, evil is defined precisely at the bottom of this paper.
  2. Each sentient being should respect every other sentient being as being as important as yourself — Contribution from Samantha Cook
  3. Do anything you want, so long as you allow others to live the life they want to live. Rhyming: Do as you will so long as others can do it still
  4. Libertarianism deserves credit for this, it’s their major tenant — however I thought of it before I knew that.
  5. Do whatever perpetuates the human species in the healthiest way — Contribution from Lynn Goodman
  6. Free will exists, use your will along with these ideas to guide your life in a good direction (for a proof of free will, please email me… I may post it here someday too if I get enough requests)
  7. Don’t take anything personally. This is from Don Miguel Ruiz’s great book the four agreements. This includes meaning that if someone insults you, you shouldn’t take it personally… Consider for a moment what they say, analyze whether its valuable feedback for you. If so, adapt accordingly. If not, consider that their insults are a reflection of their own misinterpretations, rather than your own shortcomings.
  8. Use your free will to live according to these guidelines
  9. Use your free will to accomplish rule number two-five and what you feel is right and good
  10. Do unto others as others would have you do unto them.
  11. Seek wisdom wherever you can find it. Through success, adversity, other wise people, and from fools. Learn from everything.
  12. Pick your battles — if rule #3 runs into a conflict, let whoever cares the most win, and try to accommodate letting them live their dream. Happiness can come from letting others live their dreams.
  13. Try with as much force as you have desire to succeed.
  14. Seek the truth. First do so using science, then philosophy, then spirituality/religion. (I have a separate paper on this)
  15. “… grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And Wisdom to know the difference.” — The Serenity Prayer, by Reinhold Niebuhr (Note that the roots of this philosophy is actually originally from Ancient Greek Stoicism, which espoused the same philosophy, but I don’t have as pithy a quote from the Stoics yet… let me know if you know of one)
  16. Strive for happiness in all situations. There’s a bright side to every situation, albeit it’s sometimes hard to find, search for it. Recognize disappointment as a human emotion, recognize it and work hard to get through it / over it as soon as possible.
  17. When you do feel disappointment, share it with those close to you or find a way to let it go.
  18. Appreciate what you have now, and the wonderful people who are a part of your life.
  19. Inside your comfort zone life is easy and you don’t grow. Outside your growth zone in “fight or flight” mode is a fearful place, and you don’t grow. In between there is growth. Stay outside of your comfort zone and outside of the danger zone… that is: stay in the growth zone ((work on the language here))
  20. Strive to be the best you can be.
  21. Help others. If they can help you and do keep helping them. If you help those who can’t help you, you’re doing a good deed.
  22. I’m going to paraphrase a Buddhist quote, anyone who can find the real quote please email me so I can post it here: ‘You can’t teach someone something until they’re ready to learn it.’ (Note I quote this after the prior quote because you also can’t help someone until they’re ready for the help).
  23. I choose to have faith that Karma exists — do good and in the long run more good will come to you than would have otherwise. There are two options:
  24. Karma may exist, in which case living your life this way will reap big rewards
  25. Karma may not exist, in which case living your life believing in Karma will still make you happier and more satisfied with life, feeling that its more fair than you would otherwise believe. You will be more satisfied with life if you make the conscious decision to have faith that Karma exists… but still refer to rule #1 and decide for yourself.
  26. Admit the difference between what you know and what you don’t. Teach what you know and learn what you don’t. Cooperative learning is good too, when you recognize none of you have full knowledge of a subject.
  27. Moderation in all things including moderation itself.
  28. ”A good friend who points out mistakes and imperfections and rebukes evil is to be respected as if he reveals a secret of hidden treasure.” — Buddha
  29. Be open to having flaws (we all do), and thank people who accurately point out your flaws
  30. The way you give a criticism should be done with humble compassion and out of kindness to help the other person
  31. “Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” -Aristotle
  32. Show anger with compassion — use it as a tool to explain that something was important to you and how important it was, rather than as a tool to lash out or cause harm/damage.
  33. If you make a mistake, apologize and own up to your mistake. Good people will respect you more for this, not less. Those who blame you or try to make you feel worse for it are not worthy of your time, and you should distance yourself from them if possible.
  34. If someone else makes a mistake, point it out politely and privately but firmly. Give them a chance to admit and own their mistake.
  35. If you violate someone’s trust, make the effort to restore it.
  36. Be aware of your inner thoughts and cultivate thoughts that further the rules above.
  37. Life’s purpose is up to you — define your own life’s purpose, make it one that will contribute to the world in a positive way, and strive to achieve it.
  38. Admit the difference between what you know and what you don’t, and what you’re good at and what you’re not. Teach what you know and learn what you don’t. Do what you’re good at and let others do what they’re good at. Cooperative learning is good too, when you recognize none of you have full knowledge of a subject. The best results come from a balanced team.
  39. What other ideas do you have that I should add here?
  40. We are here to influence the world with our free will, and we should do so in the interest of doing the most good possible and allowing the least amount of evil to continue to persist.
  41. When discussing ideas with other people, I have come across two sets of ideas I think are of great value.
  42. The guiding light / north star of conversation/debate: “let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.” Credit: Arthur Martine counseled this in his magnificent 1866 guide to the art of conversation
  43. How to execute on debate/discussion: Follow these four simple to understand but hard to execute on in the heat of debate rules: (giving credit where its due, these come from here: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/03/28/daniel-dennett-rapoport-rules-criticism/)
  44. One) You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
  45. Two) You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  46. Three) You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  47. Four) Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism

Evil

When you are given a choice of multiple options:

A. One of which causes harm (emotional or psychological) in a significant way, but improves your own situation financially/emotionally/etc.

B. Another of which still allows you to live the life you want to live but does not cause harm

Choosing option A is evil.

You should always try to avoid evil, first and foremost. After that spend your effort to do good.

We’re talking about good and evil — Are good and evil universal?

I do fundamentally believe there is a set of universal morals that are right and that we should strive for… however…

I don’t think any one person should be the one to dictate what those morals are (including me). And I don’t think we should take tradition or scriptures, or anything else as the mandate of what those morals are — they should be tools to educate us, which is why the first rule of my life philosophy says that we should come to the conclusion of what the right universal morals are based on learning about morals that are out there and deciding which ones are right for us. We should strive to achieve universal morals that help our individual as well as the greater good… but we should be slow to judge others because they have come to different conclusions, rather help them understand why we believe what we believe and strive to understand why they believe what they believe and see if by teaching and learning from each other we can better codify and follow the universal morals we’re striving to achieve.

I personally believe that some higher power (god, if you prefer) does set what these universal morals are that we are striving so hard to understand and follow, but I don’t think that should be a necessary belief for understanding that there are universal morals that we should strive for, and that we should accept each person’s journey towards finding and following those universal morals as their own. To be honest, even if you don’t believe in universal morals, I still think this paper will help you determine what you will consider subjective morals that will help you live “the good” life. Try reading with an open mind and see if you get value from what follows.