Studying happiness has shown me that there are very few new truths out there.
It's like dieting. New diet books hit the shelves every day, but we know that the real secret to staying slim is to eat better (mostly plants), eat less, and exercise more.
Likewise, the keys to leading a happy life have been around for a long time. I get a big kick out of uncovering "tips lists" from the past -- Sydney Smith's tips for cheering yourself up from 1820, Francis Bacon's tips for how to be happy from 1625, Lord Chesterfield's tips for pleasing in society from 1774.
In De Civilitate, Erasmus gave eight tips about how to behave yourself around other people. He wrote this list around 1500 A.D., and his advice has a long shelf life.
According to Erasmus, you should not…
2. tell unkind stories
4. indulge in self-display
5. seek to defeat others in argument
6. interrupt people when they tell a story
7. be too inquisitive
8. be discreet about your own thoughts and actions
Every day, when I fill out my resolutions chart, I review my Twelve Commandments (see left column), and I've added Erasmus's list as an appendix.
I've been very surprised by the effectiveness of reviewing a list of goals. It turns out that re-reading admonitions like "Don't interrupt people" and "Don't tell unkind stories" day after day does, in fact, help me to act better.*
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