Who is the person closest to you?
You see him every day, talk to him and about him, sleep with him, clean him up, applaud his successes and analyze his defeats. This individual knows more about you than you will ever know.
Maybe it’s time to make yourself into your own best friend, given all that intimacy.
I’ve listed 30 suggestions to get you started.
- Be entertaining company on your own. Inspect your personality and how you view the world compared to others. Seek new ideas, and pass the unaccompanied time with enjoyment. Go places and do things beyond your usual comfort zone, including solo explorations. Perhaps concerts, movies, parks, museums, and tours. Don’t sit alone in quiet desperation.
- Be kind to who you are. Your life emerged without a display case from which to choose the attributes you wanted. You began with raw and imperfect materials of external creation. Improve them as you can, but don’t diminish what you have accomplished. In the words of Epictetus, “...as the (working) material of the carpenter is wood, and that of (a sculptor is) bronze, so the subject matter of the art of living is each person’s own life.“
- Mistakes are inevitable. Master them. Please take steps to skip over their repetition.
- Putting others first must have limits. Decency doesn’t require one to be a human sacrifice. Self-compassion is not selfishness but the foremost necessity of life. You can only be helpful to others if you maintain the strength to do good. Generosity and kindness are not identical to placing yourself last in line. As a Christian colleague told more than one of her clients, “Get off the cross, we need the wood.”
- Become independent, assertive, and the best available defender of your ground. If another must serve as the guardian of your well-being, safety, and security, your dependency will be like an Achilles heel awaiting its fatal arrow. Be the advocate on your behalf.
- Pursue advice, so long as you don’t overdo it. Make sure of your advisors and how much to follow their suggestions.
- Look for excellent models. Those you admire might be appropriate, but celebrity should not be a necessary criterion.
- Read fine authors, the better to write with clarity and engage with all the great minds of civilization’s past. Recognize a book as a chance to uncover the author’s observations before you dispute them.
- Don’t overthink. Delay and avoidance offer no guarantee of improved decision-making. If you wait until you feel right and ready, don’t be surprised when speeding time stares down at you from a passing train, with your opportunity aboard. The next locomotive to the same destination could be canceled. Is there knowledge you must first acquire? Begin then to obtain it instead of waiting for divine intervention.
- Do not explain, excuse, or apologize because you believe someone else expects this. Such efforts betray insecurity. Discover when to wait and how to say no.
- Do not worry much about what others will say about you privately. They tend to be preoccupied with their foibles, not yours. As Marcus Aurelius wrote, “I have wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others...”
- Hold yourself to account. Look into the mirror. Do not turn away; instead, make sure to praise strengths and admit flaws.
- Allow love and kindness to emanate from your being. Live with both intelligence and an open heart. Those different from you also find existence challenging.
- Consider friendship with people unlike you as an opportunity. Hesitate before condemning the unfamiliar ones, those outside of your understanding.
- Learn, always learn. You will relearn the same lessons under new conditions with different solutions many times in any life. If you stay unchanged, you will be like a man watching history race by, missing the chance to be enlarged by time, thought, and experience.
- Pick your battles. When you swim in a pool of anger, you will drink its pollution, distressed when you could be joyful.
- Hold on to old friends. They share knowledge of your youth and lived through the trials and joys of growing up in the same place, at the same time, with the same teachers, and the same challenges. They alone have a personal recall of your parents and “the old neighborhood.”
- Misfortune and unhappiness will be overwhelming at times. Most of us eventually return to our usual level of well-being — to our set point.
- Contemplate whether you received more pleasure from experiences or things. Material objects tend to lose the boost they give us soon after receiving them. The new car smell fades, and the Christmas toy gets put away.
- When hardship comes, remember how you survived earlier losses and what properties within you enabled you to bounce back.
- “But those who forget the past, ignore the present, and fear for the future have a life that is very brief and filled with anxiety...Their very pleasures are fearful and troubled by alarms of different kinds; at the very moment of rejoicing, the anxious thought occurs to them: ‘How long will this last?‘” (Seneca, On the Shortness of Life).
- You will gain more from those who are learning more. Prioritize people who do not always insist on certainty but approach the world with many questions and are unafraid of complex answers.
- Disappointments needn’t always be someone’s fault. Expect ups and downs. Sometimes your frustrations are due to your mistakes. Often they are a function of a world where competition, another person’s trouble, the search for love, and simultaneous demands will pull you and the rest of humanity in directions no one expected, with collisions of your interests and theirs.
- Not everyone will love you, nor even like you. Accept that. Living means your heart will break, and you might bruise others’ hearts like a game of dominoes.
- You will not accomplish everything, travel everywhere, or “have it all.” Practice gratitude for what you possess, displaying generosity to those you care about and even strangers. Make the best choices on matters of importance.
- Remember, you are not a “thinking machine,” but your emotions will try to persuade you that you are. As Antonio Damasio reminds us, “We are feeling machines that think.”* Make an effort to recognize this and enlarge the scope of your rationality.
- Laugh at the absurdity of the world and yourself.
- The world will test you. Then and only then will you know who you are. Fate is a hard teacher. Before your turn comes, be careful who you judge. Knowing yourself has value, not despite but because of the high price of its instruction.
- Empty your being of all your power, imagination, and grit. Use it up. To live a full life is to leave it with nothing undone or held back. In so doing, you can look back with satisfaction and a smile.
- Finally, Seth Stephens-Davidowtz offers this “data-driven answer to life,” only half-jokingly: “Be with your love, on an 80-degree sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex.” You can do much worse.
The photo is A Warm Winter Pool, 2020, by Laura Hedien, with her permission: Laura Hedien Official Website.
*Thanks also go to Brewdun for pointing out the Antonio Damasio quotation in No. 26.