Monday I'll mark another birthday. Every year about this time, I find myself taking stock, trying to decide what I've learned, how I want to live in the future.
It might get repetitive for you who follow this column regularly, but in March I end up waxing even more philosophical than usual.
This year, I keep thinking about all the unhappy people I encounter — people railing at their kids in the grocery line, people on the highway tailgating and cutting off their fellow travelers, people angrily filing lawsuits.
We're blessed to live in a land and in an era in which we have precious little pressing us from the outside. We're not governed by a totalitarian regime that bashes in our doors; we don't have terrorists detonating suicide bombs on our sidewalks. Our economy has been in the pits, but most people who want to be employed are.
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In this country, if you try to reach comparative comfort, you can.
Largely, our problems are self-inflicted. I do understand that many folks are battling debilitating diseases they didn't cause. I know that our loved ones die. I realize a spouse might cheat on us. I know that any of us might be downsized from his or her job without warning.
Still, we have a greater opportunity to achieve harmony than virtually any people in history. But so many among us choose to be miserable anyway, and to make others miserable.
Here are 20 practices that lead us to happiness and fulfillment. I don't claim to have mastered all of these myself. But I'm working on them.
Think for yourself. Read, study and consider. Question everything. Decide what you believe — and follow it.
Deal with your past, then move on. Everybody's been done wrong at some point by somebody. It's universal. Face your past instead of denying it; recognize how it affects you. If you need counseling, get it. But make every effort to press forward. Don't be controlled today by something that happened 40 years ago.
Don't be a martyr. It's good to serve others, if you genuinely choose to serve them for service's own sake. It's not good to make yourself a slave in the desperate hope that you can earn others' acceptance.
Live beneath your financial means. Whatever you earn, spend less. Save the difference so you'll have a cushion in bad times.
Pursue the middle path. In religion, politics, economics, the extremists almost always are wrong — and they're miserable, dogmatic misanthropes.
Mind your own business. Your co-workers' affairs are not your affairs. How your third-cousin spends his money probably doesn't affect your bank balance by one penny.
Laugh. Watch funny movies. Tell jokes. Lighten up.
Remember that the world doesn't revolve around you. If your boss acts surly, it might be that he's had a fight with his wife. Most things aren't about you.
Work, but don't be overly ambitious. If you have bread on your table and a roof over your head, be content. Folks in Haiti would gladly change places with you.
Tell the truth to yourself, others and God. Don't make excuses. Don't lie. Don't put a false spin on every ugly situation. Just be honest with everyone, always.
Be yourself. There's freedom in recognizing that you simply are who you are. If you like big-time wrestling or tractor pulls, go for it, whether or not it's cool.
Be a giver rather than a taker. Perform nice deeds. Donate generously to your church. Slip $50 to a single parent so she can buy her child a birthday present.
Enjoy your kids. They're the ones who'll visit you in the nursing home. They love you whether you're a janitor or a CEO. Love them back. Love them first.
Listen more than you talk. You don't have all the answers, and you'll become much wiser by listening than by lecturing.
Don't judge. You never know for sure what brought a person to the condition he or she is in. You don't know that you'd do any better in the same circumstances.
Don't borrow trouble. Prepare for the future as best you can, but realize you can't control it. Don't fret about it. All you have is today.
Quit blaming everyone else for your problems. Blaming others is convenient but counterproductive. Assume your share of responsibility. You might be the problem.
Relax. Go to a movie. Sleep until 11 a.m. on Saturdays.
Take the long view. Usually, no one day makes or breaks you.
Keep the faith. Life seems to contain more good than bad, more blessings than suffering. More people are trustworthy than are shady. Allow yourself to be optimistic.