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Flexible rules“Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness.” Albert Camus

We may not be aware of it, but all of us are walking around with a whole bunch of rules. We acquire them over time for a number of reasons and some of us have way more of them than others.

These rules are related to our beliefs and values, and are the conditions we believe need to be met in order for us to approve of something, to feel happy and content, and other things.

The thing is, a whole lot of them are really not necessary and can be quite constricting and restrictive, impeding the ease with which we allow ourselves to feel good, interact with the world and welcome new experiences and information. They can really be a weight we are dragging around for no good reason.

Rules can also hold us up from getting things done. If our rules aren’t working in our favour, they can detrimentally affect our productivity. That’s a big one on my radar right now, as readers have told me overwhelmingly that they feel overworked and wish they had more time.

So why do we tend to hang onto these rules and gather them in the first place? Well, it’s about feeling safe. They can give us a greater sense of belonging, of being approved of by a group, for one thing. If you dress a certain way, speak a certain way, like a certain kind of TV show, food or car, you can belong to the gang. We make decisions based on experience that we feel more comfortable if certain conditions are in place. We adopt a bunch of rules that were randomly or not so randomly put out there for us to adopt so that we can feel we are ok.

Yes, I’m talking about the media and advertising. They want you to have a bunch of rules about what stuff you have to have, what you have to look like, what you have to know about and keep up with and so on, in order for you to feel you are a worthwhile human being. If you won’t allow yourself to feel ok unless you have certain clothes, your home looks a certain way, unless you feel you conform to some kind of measure of social status, you’re severely limiting your options.

And we have a whole bunch of social rules. If your social rules are very rigid, you’re likely to be more easily offended or have your feelings hurt. If we feel people must behave in a certain way in order to feel that they are respectful of us, that they love us and care about us, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. For example, my father when he was still alive, was never very good at adhering to the social conventions around birthdays and so on. He found it difficult to do things like go shopping, write in a birthday card and things like that. I realised that I knew my father loved me, and that his way of showing it was by being there, talking, playing with the kids and so on. So I made a decision to ignore this social rule and get over it, and just enjoy my relationship with my father.

Independent thinking can be draining; it can expend our energy and tire us out. When we’re already tired after getting through our day, it’s very tempting to let the telly tell us what do, think and feel. We’re already worn out making decisions. How about we just flop on the couch and go with the flow.

Trouble is, this is a major way we collect a whole lot of useless rules. They become clutter.

None of us see things the same way. We are all individuals. But the more we are the same, the more we see things the way they’re presented to us on TV, the easier it is for large corporate interests to sell us products and control what we believe.

We put together a representation of reality which is heavily filtered. It has to be filtered, because we can’t consciously handle all the information coming to us through our senses at once. The thing is, if we are aware of this filtering going on, we can stop and question it sometimes, and notice where it might be limiting us.

Life is full of decisions and choices to be made, there is safety in numbers, and it’s less scary to outsource our own judgement and defer to the rules allocated by the nearest social group you can belong to. Gaining approval and acceptance is so comforting.

But it’s well worth remembering that happiness is available to us un-expectedly if we allow it to be. It doesn’t necessarily follow a particular order or formula.

The more conditions we feel we need to impose on our circumstances in order for us to experience happiness, the less likely we are to experience it. The easier we make it, the better, I say.

If you’re stuck out in the cold/heat waiting for your bus or tram, and you’re cold/hot, and bored and annoyed, are you determined to stay that way even if something really funny or delightful happens, or do you allow yourself to be in the moment and enjoy it?

When you come across something which annoys you, something on TV or on Facebook, do you dwell on it and rant and whine about it for a while, even obsess over it, or do you move on and look for something which gets your attention in a more positive way.

Does everything have to be well in the world in order for you to enjoy what’s available to you right now? That’s a heavy burden to bear, seeing as horrible things are happening constantly and there is probably very little you can do about most of it.

What is in our power to influence, is our own attitudes, our own rules that we live by, our own thinking and our own choices. We are creating our own culture all the time. We get to choose our own rules. Simply being aware of the existence of rules coming into play in our lives opens the door to noticing, and to questioning, and to making changes.

So let’s ask ourselves, what rules really matter and how are we going to live by them. And who do we apply these rules to? It’s much healthier, of course, to apply the standards we believe in firstly to ourselves. We can think of rules firstly as a tool for loving and respecting ourselves and allowing ourselves to be loving and happy. Secondly, we can use them as a tool for setting boundaries, things we expect for ourselves, standards of how we will allow ourselves to be treated by others.

Rules are also a useful tool for setting up healthy rituals and routines for ourselves, rituals of self care, organization, efficiency, productivity and so on. It’s so much easier to have our basic healthy habits in place and follow them, but we still need to be flexible, to be able to make good choices on the go about where it’s appropriate to let go a bit. Maybe we missed our meditation or exercise time the way we had it planned, but there may still be many other opportunities to find quiet time and to exert our body today. It’s more important that it does happen, than how it happens.

With any interactions with others, any kind of communication, being aware of how rules are involved allows us to concentrate on upholding our own standards rather than looking for things to find fault with in others. Not everyone has your level of awareness, your lovely manners, you vocabulary or your social graces, but they may have very good intentions. If we can relax our rules sometimes, we can see the loving intention behind something that might have bothered us, or simply notice that the other person might not be aware of the effect of their communication, and simply be curious about it, and not make it our problem, not make it something which impacts on our own sense of inner peace and love and respect for ourselves.


#1 Lynne 2016-04-14 15:53
Being in the creative field, I was taught to always look beyond the box, so if it seems like being a non-conformist, too liberal, not living within social precepts then that’s their opinion, not mine! I believe that for as long as I am not stepping on anybody's toes then I'm good! I love whatever I do and put my whole heart and soul in it. Rules are rules but I never allowed them to strangle me…one can never be creative if one allows him/herself to be bound!!!


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Western Australia

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Queensland, Australia

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Melbourne, Australia

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NSW, Australia

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M Shears, 
Melbourne, Australia

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