On the occasion of my 50th Birthday, I thought it’d be fun to write out 50 things I’ve learned in my life, perhaps as a gift to my sons, on how to live a good life. Some of these things are probably obvious, but a lot aren’t. And some are things I still struggle with myself, but when I can do them, magic happens. So here goes:

  1. Every person is equal. Not the same, but equal. No one is more valuable than you, and you are no more valuable than anyone else.
  2. Assume everyone is your friend. Most people are good, and even the ones that aren’t probably have some positive characteristics. Most importantly, people need friends.
  3. Help when you can. We get our greatest positive feelings of worth and satisfaction from helping others. Don’t impose your ideas, or intervene in another’s life, but offer assistance where you can.
  4. You don’t know what you don’t know. It may seem like you understand things, but you probably don’t. There is so much to know, so many subtleties and chains of causation in life that it’s basically impossible to really know everything about anything.
  5. Try new stuff. The world is an interesting place, but you can’t know what you might enjoy unless you try it. This includes food, activities, professions, travels, housing situations, pretty much everything.
  6. Different isn’t always better, but better is always different. This follows from number 5, but it’s important to remember. You can’t change anything without changing anything.
  7. Do it now, if you can. Try to do things when you have the idea, when you’re excited about it. Don’t think about it too long, don’t put it on the calendar for some future date when it won’t be as appealing. Strike while the iron is hot.
  8. You can’t guess how someone else is feeling. You might get an indication from their expression or their actions, but you can’t really know. If you ask, you can get closer to knowing. But even then, you’re just imagining.
  9. Travel opens the mind. Being in a new space allows freedom of thought. It exposes you to new ideas while removing from your view the old, tired world you know. When stuck, travel.
  10. Ask for what you want. People will give you what you ask for more often than you can imagine. And when they don’t, they will try to figure out how to help you get it. But if you don’t ask, they don’t know you want it, so they’ll likely give you something else if anything at all.
  11. Create. Be in the habit of creating new things every day. This might mean writing or doing some artistic work, or experimenting in the garden. It doesn’t matter, just get in touch with the magic of creation, and let it flow through you.
  12. Don’t be attached to your creations. Remember that creativity is a flow, ideas come from wherever they come from, and you execute them as best you can, then you release them into the world. Let them go, and create the next thing.
  13. Love is something you give, not something you receive. Sometimes people will love you back, sometimes they won’t. But either way, the feeling that you experience is your own creation. And you can experience love anytime you want, by giving love, feeling love.
  14. No one can make you feel anything. Your feelings come from your own mind. When you are unconscious, you have no feelings, no matter what anyone around you is saying, doing, or being. Your feelings are your own, and they are only there to suggest actions you can take. They are not magical signals from the universe.
  15. Get outside. Being outside is restorative. The chemicals of plant life will boost your own health, and the experience of being away from man-made creations will clear your mind. We evolved to live in the jungle, visit it as often as you can, and let it work its magic.
  16. If you would like to get to know someone, ask them for help. We help people we like, and we like people we help.
  17. Be curious. Never be embarrassed to ask a question, if your curiosity leads you there. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat; it created literally everything made by man, ever.
  18. Live life as a dance. Life isn’t a game to win, or a series of tasks to complete. Life is something we do for the intrinsic, momentary joy of it. Let it be the dance that it’s meant to be.
  19. Growth doesn’t mean acquiring new skills, it means becoming more. You can learn to be better at math, but you can also grow to be less anxious or to be healthier, or more creative. Nothing in your personality is fixed. You are not who you were in the past, and you will change going into the future. Be you, but know that you are a verb.
  20. Stay up late. Not every night, but once in a while, stay up late, with friends or by yourself. Get to know the quiet hours, when the world is asleep and the streets are empty.
  21. Get up early. There is magic in those early hours, before the house is noisy and the sun is up. Start whatever comes to you, and go until you can’t.
  22. Meditate. Find a practice and make it part of your life. You will get to know your mind and your body and to see the commonality of all living beings.
  23. Spend time with friends. Life is really pretty short when you look back. But the best times are almost always spent with people you care about, who you enjoy. So make it a practice, don’t just let it happen. If you don’t make it happen, it won’t.
  24. Don’t try to impress others. The most impressive people are those who just don’t care what others think. They are doing what moves them and sharing what they find. Your happiness doesn’t come from the admiring eye of another person. It comes from your own expression and contribution.
  25. Mix things up. Don’t eat the same food all the time, or do the same exercise every day. Nutritional deficiencies and repetitive stress injuries happen for a reason. Our bodies and minds evolved to adapt, we are omnivores, we are hunters and gatherers.
  26. When you find what you want, stop shopping. Whether in relationships or buying a house, you’ll be happiest if you get pretty clear on what you want, leave yourself open to opportunity and inspiration, then make a decision. Once you’ve decided, move on to the next thing in life. If you have to revisit the decision one day, you will. But if you keep shopping, thinking about whether you made the right choice, you’ll likely be unhappy, and stuck.
  27. No one is responsible for your life but you. At the end of the day, you have to live your life, so make it one you like. Embrace the choices you make, and make choices you can live with. And when things don’t work out, look for ways to change, but don’t blame others, even if it appears to be their fault. It doesn’t serve you to be the victim.
  28. Take care of your breath. When you’re stressed, or anxious, slow your breath. Take a deep breath, and release it. Put all of your attention on your breath.
  29. Breath through your nose. Don’t be a mouth breather, it’s bad for your teeth, bad for your body, and bad for your mind.
  30. Put your socks on before your pants. Many things in life are just much easier if done in a better order. Always notice when something seems hard to fit and look for a better way to do it, even if that means putting your socks on first.
  31. Never be afraid to make contact. People are social beings, and often we imagine how others are feeling, what they’re doing, etc. Don’t let your thoughts and imaginary scenarios stop you. If you have the urge to reach out to an old friend or a new acquaintance, do it.
  32. Ask for help. Whatever you want to accomplish in life, there are literally thousands, if not tens of thousands of people who can and will help you. And don’t worry that they’ll look down on you. They won’t.
  33. Think about what you want to happen. If you’re not sure what action to take, or how to handle a conversation, think about what you want the outcome to look like. What do you want to clarify? What does a solved problem look like?
  34. Take pictures. Phones have cameras, so use them. Take pictures of fun moments, take pictures of places you visit, take pictures of books you’d like to read. Write a note on paper, then take a picture. I can think of many past events I wish I had pictures of. Not many that I wish I hadn’t taken pictures of.
  35. Don’t take pictures. Don’t let your desire to document your life take over living your life. Take a picture or two, then put the phone away. There may be a fine line here but err on the side of being present. Unless there are actual presents. Then, take pictures.
  36. Learn to cook. There are few life skills as useful and universally appreciated as being able to cook. This doesn’t just mean following recipes. It means learning the basic skills, the basic flavors, and the basic techniques. And ideally, it means learning the dishes you loved as a kid, so you can keep those memories alive.
  37. Exercise. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, and you don’t have to be in perfect shape. But your body is like a racehorse. You have to feed it, exercise it, and rest it. Otherwise, you’re going to be less happy, have less fun, and die younger.
  38. Eat well. Pay attention to what your body wants, and what makes it feel good. Avoid the things that leave you feeling bad, even if they are delicious. Eat the things that leave you feeling energized, full (but not stuffed), and clean.
  39. Eat Mindfully. Take your time. Taste every bite, notice the texture and flavor, the smell, and color. Enjoy eating, it’s not a chore.
  40. Learn how to learn. The world is changing quickly, and skills that are valued today might be outdated in just a few years. Be sensitive to what’s happening, to what you’re curious about, and what you’re good at. Learn how to do something new as soon as you master what you’re doing now.
  41. Find a mentor. Whatever you choose to do in life, find a mentor. This could be a friend who has done it before or even a book by someone in the field. Ideally, it’s someone who can introduce you to people, and help you avoid stumbling blocks.
  42. You don’t find your purpose, you choose it. You can spend your life trying to figure out what your purpose is, and never know. Because purpose is something we choose. And it isn’t permanent, either. This year, your purpose might be saving the rainforest, and next year it might be raising your son. That doesn’t matter, just choose it and do it.
  43. Go all in. Whatever you’re doing, do it. Holding back holds you back. Realize that you’re all in, going 100% for right now. You can change course in a minute, but in this instant, be all in.
  44. Get started. When you don’t feel like doing something that you want to do, like homework or writing an article, or making dinner, just start. Commit to 5 minutes. Forward motion is magic, and once you start, keeping on is easy.
  45. Resistance is a compass. When you start on a creative project, you might feel some resistance, and start looking for other tasks to engage in instead. This is a good sign! It means that your project is something important. Just start.
  46. Setting goals is good and bad. Goals are great when they are short term, clear, and doable. You’ll need a task list to create an amazing vacation, or build a house. But long term goals are kind of pointless. Things will change, and if you’re banking on that future goal making you happy, you’re likely to be disappointed.
  47. Be open to the opportunities that show up. Say yes. Don’t let fear prevent you from doing amazing things, going amazing places, and creating amazing work. Always be scanning the horizon, like a hunter on the great plains.
  48. Assume that others know what they’re doing. Don’t second guess people, even if you get hurt sometimes. It’s a much healthier way to live when you assume that people are good, know how to do their work, and can manage their own lives.
  49. Share your work. Don’t be afraid of judgment. Know that your creations have value and that the only possible purpose of creation is to share the result. There’s joy in sharing, but don’t do it for the accolades. Do it from a place of love and contribution. Some people will love your work, and some will hate it, and that’s ok.
  50. Start from now. Don’t worry about the past, you can take action right now on whatever you want to do. And don’t spend time trying to figure out the future, either. Be here now, and do your work. Give and create, and love and enjoy.

That’s 50! I could probably go on, but I think that’s a good little collection.