Of mind & bodyShared joy & pain

Ten Personal Commandments for Happiness and Ethical Living

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Once upon a time I came across a meme on LiveJournal asking people to identify their ten personal commandments.  I like memes. When people participate in them, interesting thought experiments spread across the world.

I took the assignment seriously and took perhaps a full week to think about what ten principles I would like to live by. I wanted them to be universal, to apply in addition to rather than instead of a religious belief, and to address both harm to self and harm to others.

Here is what I came up with:

Maureen’s Ten Personal Commandments

  1. Never give up or give in when your physical, mental, or spiritual well-being is at stake.
  2. Prioritize, then don’t sweat the small stuff.
  3. Always be pleasant, especially to those who wish you harm.
  4. Honor your feelings whether or not you can or should act on them.
  5. Stay present in your life and in the world.
  6. Act as if you could die tomorrow. Because you could. (Live so you have no regrets).
  7. Learn from your mistakes but don’t dwell on them.
  8. Be quick to forgive but slow to forget.
  9. Be a good neighbor — keep your ‘footprint’ small and your heart large.
  10. Give back to the world more than you take from it.

I came up with these nearly a decade ago. In every workplace (both home office and ‘paid’), I have kept these ten personal commandments displayed prominently, sometimes as my desktop background, sometimes on a bulletin board.

I now find that I live by most of them with far less effort than when I started, and not coincidentally, my life has greatly improved on pretty much all fronts in the last decade.

You may find that some of these work for you, but some of them don’t. You may create your own personal ten commandments that have nothing in common with mine. It is the creation of the list, and the regular reminders of it, that matters.

In my day job I am responsible for helping my therapy participants develop treatment goals for their lives on at least a yearly basis. A treatment plan sounds like a fancy thing that you need a professional to help you with, but it’s really not. It’s just a statement of intentions for your next year, with the pieces broken down into doable, measurable bits.

A personal commandments list (it doesn’t need to be ten) is more along the line of a manifesto or a corporate mission statement. It sets the guiding principles for your life. After you have those guiding principles, your goals (the short term and medium term life changes you want to make) and objectives (the measurable changes you’re going to make to get there) begin to fall into place.

Give it a try. Spend an hour or day or week working up some personal commandments. You can share them with me in the comments if you like, I’d love to see them. Live with them every day… frame them and hang them in the bathroom so you see them when you brush your teeth, or make them into the cover design of the notebook or binder you use most often, or make them into an image that you use as your desktop background on your computer, smart phone or tablet.

Let me know how it goes, and share this idea with others.


  • 25 Things You Should Remember To Do Every Day (thoughtcatalog.com)
  • Only For Today (composingkate.com)
  • Rob’s Ten Commandments (annekenstein.typepad.com)
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