Rules of Life

I read a great article recently about a mother of four boys who, dying of cancer, left her sons a letter setting out a 20-point guide on how to live a happy life.  It was rather a touching story and the points she makes are well worth sharing; they are:

  1. What you put out comes back all the time – no matter what.
  2. You define your own script. Don’t let others write your script for you.
  3. Whatever someone did to you in the past has now power over the present. Only if you give it the power.
  4. When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.
  5. Worrying is a waste of time.  Use the same energy for doing something about whatever worries you.
  6. Whatever you believe has more power than what you dream or wish or hope for.  You become what you believe.
  7. If the only prayer you say is “Thank you” then that will be enough.
  8. The happiness you feel is in direct proportion to the love you give.
  9. Failure is a signpost to turn you in another direction.
  10. If you make a choice that goes against what everyone else thinks, the world will not fall apart.
  11. Trust your instincts.  Intuition doesn’t lie.
  12. Love yourself then learn to extend that love to others in every encounter.
  13. Let passion drive your profession.
  14. Love doesn’t hurt.  It feels really good.
  15. Every day brings a chance to start over.
  16. Doubt means “don’t”.  Don’t answer, don’t rush forwards.
  17. When you don’t know what to do, be still.  The answer will come.
  18. Trouble doesn’t always last.
  19. This too shall pass.
  20. I will act with the intent to be true to myself.

When reading the list I was reminded of some of the points Stephen Covey makes in his famous book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  The similarity is that not only do people who are highly successful tend to have a ‘can-do’ attitude and an indomitable spirit, they are also clear on their principles and values.

Take Sir Richard Branson as an example.  He is clearly a successful person and he defines his ‘7 rule to live by for ultimate success’ as being:

1. Saying “Yes!” is Fun
Branson comes from the perspective that you have to be in it to win it – he even wrote a book called ‘Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons in Life’.  You won’t always be successful but if you don’t give things a go, how do you know that you wouldn’t have succeeded.

2. If You Are Going to Dream, Dream Big!
Branson doesn’t do small – he has sailed across the Atlantic in record time, ballooned around the World, become a billionaire and launched a space tourism business.  

3. Having Fun is Fun
Branson frequently gets asked what the secret to his success is.  His stock answer “Have fun, work hard and money will come”.  He also states that as soon as he stops having fun on a project, it’s time to move on - life is too short to be unhappy!

4. Always Take Risks – Calculated Ones
For some people, saying ‘yes’, thinking big and having fun all seems a little reckless.  In reality, Branson’s decisions only come after careful consideration and one of his most important mottos has always been “Be bold. Don’t gamble.”

5. Live for the Moment
It’s a bit of a cliché but whatever you are doing right now is at the expense of other things you could be doing instead.  If those other things would be making you happier, perhaps you should be doing them instead.

6. Always Give Respect
Branson’s early career in the music industry taught him that you cannot judge a person by their appearance, their accent or even by their wealth.  Therefore, treat everyone with respect, not just those that you need to impress. Someday you could be doing business with them.
7. Give Back

Branson believes the true meaning to life is to help others; to make the world a better place to live for all living creatures.

So if successful people also have guiding principles, the question for everyone else is which comes first – the success or the principles?  In other words, was Annmarie James-Thomas providing her sons with something of practical value in leaving them her list of 20 guiding principles, or was she simply sharing something she had personally found useful? 

As with all ‘chicken and egg’ questions, the answer is more a matter of opinion than an empirically provable fact, but in my opinion there appears to be a correlation between people who have strong principles and values that guide their actions and their success.  This probably comes down to the fact that success in most walks of life requires decisiveness, and decision-making is easier for people who have strong values and principles to help them compare and contracts different options.

Evidence to support this comes from several studies of university leavers, which have all found that graduates who have a clear sense of direction when leaving university are more likely to achieve their ambitions than those who are more vague about what they want to do.  More specifically, a study at the University of Rochester which was published in 2009 asked graduates to set out their life goals.  The researchers divided the goals described to them into two categories: Those that related to personal gain, such as becoming wealthy or famous, they described as “extrinsic aspirations”, while those that related to making the world a better place by helping others they described as “intrinsic aspirations”.

After a couple of years they tracked these graduates down to see how they were getting on in achieving their goals.  As with previous studies, they found that the more specific the goals the more likely it was that the person concerned would be achieving their objectives, but interestingly, they found that the people who had set themselves “intrinsic” (or “purpose”) goals reported higher levels of personal satisfaction and happiness and lower levels of anxiety and depression.  Graduates who had “extrinsic” (or “profit”) goals, on the other hand, reported levels of self-esteem and satisfaction that were no higher than when they were at university.  But more significantly, they also reported increased levels of anxiety and depression.  The conclusion was that the attainment of profit goals can actually make us feel worse off!

This is not to suggest that making money is bad – clearly it is a necessary part of modern life, but rather that the old adage that “money cannot buy you happiness” is perfectly true.  By steering her children towards more purposeful goals, Annmarie James-Thomas may well be helping them achieve a happier and more fulfilling life.

About the Author
Alistair Schofield is Managing Director of Extensor Limited.