In Douglas Adam’s 5-book trilogy, The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy, there’s a running gag about the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.
The characters find out that the Answer is 42.
But Adams also posits that the Answer and the Question are mutually exclusive. If you know one, you can’t know the other. So nobody can figure out what the actual question is.
It amuses me because now that I’m 42, it would be nice if I had a few answers myself. I’ve been thinking about this as I get ready for a new addition to our family. If my son was asking me for some answers, what would I share? While I most certainly do not have the Answer, I have come up with some good guesses. Here’s what’s I’ve come up with so far:
D. Fish’s Guidelines for a Good Life
- Compassion is incredibly important. Compassion towards others, towards the planet, and towards yourself. When things are mucked up, there’s usually a dearth of compassion to blame. And that’s because compassion can be hard. It often requires us to show up as our best self, which is challenging. But if you spend your days trying to act compassionately, you’ll have a life well spent.
- Your definition of success has to be your own. It should be open and evolving, but in the end it has to be yours. Lots of people and groups will try to tell you what success is, because then they can tell you how to act to achieve that success. Simply take the pieces that resonate, and then politely say “no thank you” to the rest.
- Learn how to appreciate jazz and poetry. They will reward the effort you put into them.
- The people that surround you will shape your perspective on life. Not intentionally, but they will. You hang around high-drama people, you’ll have a high-drama life. You hang around smart, generous people, you’ll have a much more relaxed life. And the best way to attract good people: be one first and then treat them like gold when they arrive into your life.
- The world is not fair. Sometimes it will come out in your favor and sometimes it won’t. Don’t get cocky when it goes your way or bitter when it doesn’t because neither of those is helpful.
- Consistently make new friends. Not to replace your existing friends, but to add to the mix. Making friends takes time and energy, which is why a lot of people give up on it as they get older. But you’ll continue to run into good people throughout your life, and showing those relationships a little attention can lead to wonderful opportunities and experiences.
- No one gets out of this thing alive. That is an irrevocable truth. You can decide whether that makes you fearful or appreciative. I suggest the later.
- Trust and respect are both earned, not given. If you want to have people’s trust and respect, you have to act in a way that engenders it. If you do so, and they still don’t trust and respect you, that’s on them, not you. Don’t spend time worrying about it.
- Have high expectations for your growth as a person. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t achieved a specific goal by a specific time. But always ask yourself, “Have I grown and matured from where I was last week, last month, or last year?” The only person you have to compare yourself to is the you of yesterday.
- Study rhetoric. It’s a powerful mix of logic, communication, and philosophy. It will guide your inner dialogue, clarify your communication with others, and protect you from disingenuous marketing and political hacks.
- Find the right partner. It’s a cliche that who you decide to marry is the most important decision you make because it’s true. Wait for the right person, and be sure that you are the right person for them. You’ll probably go through some broken hearts and some almost-rights. They won’t kill you (although it might feel like it). Make the decision because you want to be with that person, not because you are afraid of not being with them.
- Eat food from different cultures. And listen to their music. We all eat and we all dance and it’s a great way to get to know the world. Plus, you’ll eat some amazing food and listen to some great music.
- Have books everywhere. On bookshelves, by the bed, in the bathroom, on your phone, in your backpack. And read them. Everything from science fiction to literature to business to psychology to spirituality to comics. Books are the cheapest and fastest route to understanding the world around you.
- Call your mother. She went through a lot to get you here. She’d love to hear from you, even if it’s just to say hello.
That’s what I’ve come up with so far. But heck, I’m trying to figure this out on the fly just like everyone else. As the philosopher Dennis Miller used to say, “Of course, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”