I’ve made a list of 20 rules to live by.
1. Bring your sense of humor with you at all times. Bring your friends with a sense of humor. If their friends have a sense of humor, invite them, too. Remember this when going to hospitals, weight loss centers and funerals, as well as when going to work, coming home, waking up and going to sleep.
2. If it’s worth crying over, it’s probably worth laughing at. Cultivate a sense of perspective that permits you to see the wider and longer view of the situation; this will help you realize that although your situation is upsetting, it might also one day become a terrific story.
3. Other people don’t care what you’re wearing.
4. Don’t be a sissy. This is especially important if you are a woman. Girls can be sissies, but behaving like a simpering, whining, fretful coward as an adult is unacceptable no matter what your gender happens to be. If you are anxious, scared and feeling powerless, you don’t need to change your behavior; you need to change your life.
5. Don’t lie. Cheat the devil and tell the truth.
6. There is one exception to the rule above: Never say a baby looks like a sausage wearing a hat. The parents will not forgive you. This is a situation in which telling the truth is not wholly necessary. If it’s not possible to tell the whole truth for fear of causing undue pain, just say the baby looks “happy.”
7. Never use the passive voice. Do not say, “It will get done.” Say, “I’ll do it,” and then offer a solid, unwavering deadline. Always make your deadline.
8. The pinnacle is always slippery; no peak is safe. Only plateaus offer a place to rest. Are you ready to stay on a plateau or are you climbing? Decide and pack your bags accordingly.
9. As we age, love changes. As a youth, you fall for an unattainable ideal. When you’re more mature, you fall in love with a person: “Sure, he has only one eye in the middle of his forehead,” you’ll rationalize, “but he never forgets my birthday.”
10. Power is the ability to persuade stupid people to do intelligent things and intelligent people to do stupid things. This is why power is dangerous.
11. Sherlock Holmes said, “Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson.” Listen to Mr. Holmes.
12. Everybody wants a shortcut to love, prosperity and weight loss, although not necessarily in that order. Apart from being born into an adoring family, getting good genes and inheriting the mineral rights, however, there are no shortcuts. The rest of us have to work at it.
13. Help the dramatically self-pitying to understand that they are not, by definition, sympathetic or interesting. Encourage them to address topics other than themselves.
14. Be kind, not nice. Kindness is both intentional and meaningful. Acts of kindness require generosity — emotional and otherwise. Perfunctory and superficial niceness is, too often, mere window-dressing.
15. Only poor workers blame their tools. It’s not the fault of the computer, the school, the train, the government or poor cellphone reception. Take responsibility.
16. You know how sometimes you don’t think you’re asleep — you’re half listening to a conversation or the television — only to discover you were unconscious? One part of your head would swear it’s awake, but when you actually snap out of it, you realize you were wholly elsewhere? Sometimes that happens in life. Sometimes the only way you know you’re truly in love, in the entirely wrong profession, being a moron at parties or a great poet is when you snap out of it.
17. You can always stop what you’re doing.
18. You should either be doing something useful or you should be playing. You should not be thinking about playing while at work or thinking about work when you’re out having fun. Compartmentalizing your life is not inevitably a bad thing. It’s easy to waste pleasure by feeling guilty and waste potentially effective time by feeling resentful.
19. Be aware that a safety net, if pulled too tightly, easily turns into a noose. Don’t trade independence for security without being aware of the consequences.
20. Someday you will die. Until then, you should do everything possible to enjoy life.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books and a columnist for the Hartford Courant. She can be reached through her website at http://www.ginabarreca.com.