How to Write Your Personal Commandments

One very useful exercise you may choose to do as part of your Happiness Project is to identify your personal commandments—the principles that you want to guide your actions and thoughts. Here are Gretchen Rubin's Twelve Commandments:

  1. Be Gretchen.

  2. Let it go.

  3. Act as I want to feel.

  4. Do it now.

  5. Be polite and be fair.

  6. Enjoy the process.

  7. Spend out.

  8. Identify the problem.

  9. Lighten up.

  10. Do what ought to be done.

  11. No calculation.

  12. There is only love.

    Designing your list of personal commandments is extraordinarily helpful in working for happiness, so think about what your list might be. Here are some tips to help you get started:


    Some of your commandments may quotes from other people, so pay attention. What words repeat themselves in your ear? What was the offhand comment that you’ve found unforgettable? “No deposit, no return” is nothing more than a sign on a soda machine, but if it’s a memorable and powerful phrase for you, go with it.


    Some people’s commandments can be better expressed through metaphor. Consider Howell Raines’ commandments, from Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis:

    “Rule One: Always be careful about where you fish and what you fish for and whom you fish with.
    Rule Two: Be even more careful about what you take home and what you throw back.
    Rule Three: The point of all fishing is to become ready to fly fish.
    Rule Four: The point of fly fishing is to become reverent in the presence of art and nature.
    Rule Five: The Redneck Way and Blalock’s Way run along the same rivers, but they do not come out at the same place.”

    This might be true for you.


    Aim high and fight the urge to be too comprehensive. Your commandments will be most helpful when reviewed daily, to keep them fresh in your mind, and it helps to keep the list short and snappy.

    You may run into the problem of your commandments turning into a to-do list. Remember, this isn’t a place for things like “Put your keys away in the same place every night.” But maybe that resolution fits into a larger commandment you’d like to observe.


    Each person’s list will differ. One person might have "Say yes" at the top of their list, but for someone who tends to over-commit, their list might say, "Say no." You need to think about YOURSELF, your values, your strengths and weaknesses, your interests.


    Take your time and think hard. This takes some reflection, and you can always add to and edit your list as you continue your Happiness Project.


    Looking at other people’s commandments can be a great source of inspiration. Here are some you may find intriguing:

    Forget the past.
    Don’t think about things too much.
    Do stuff.
    Talk to strangers.
    Stay in touch.
    Do your least favorite part of the job first.
    Avoid debt.
    Love your mother.
    Dig deep.
    Show and tell.
    Forgive yourself.
    Create something that wasn't there before.
    Notice the color purple.
    Adorn yourself.
    Be in awe.
    Help others.
    Be silly.
    Make footprints. "I was here."
    No fear.
    Take it in.
    Expect a miracle.
    Play the hand you’re dealt.
    Recognize my ghosts.
    Be specific about your needs.
    React to the situation.
    Keep proportion.
    Do what matters.
    Stay calm.
    Go outside.
    Feel the danger.

    Once you've written the personal commandments that will guide your Happiness Project, consider the areas of your life where you'd like to make progress.

    How to Write Your Personal Commandments