Life has a way of shattering your illusions, especially if you go poking at them by asking silly questions-“the” question-What does my life mean? Where do I fit into this world? How can I be happy?

If you’ve been reasonably successful in life, you probably don’t understand why anybody would get so hung up on the meaning of things. That’s because you only wonder about the meaning of life when life has lost its meaning.

You don’t ask the question, the question asks you-and once it does there’s no going back. You’re a ghost, out of step with everything, and you have no choice but to search for an answer or die trying, because until you do there is no peace and there is no joy and everything else is pointless.

There seems to be a lot of this going around-especially in a world full of inane, mechanical jobs, and frivolous mechanical distractions. It’s so much easier to get hammered or watch Survivor than confront the nagging suspicion that most of your life is utterly without purpose, and that you could easily be replaced by a well-trained raccoon.

The question is; what can you do to keep life meaningful?

Beats me. All I know is that there are a few things-mostly common sense things-that have really seemed to help. Of course, they’re easy to forget, which is why it can never hurt to hear them again.

So, for all the dreamers and aching, lost souls out there; you’re not alone. Here are ten things to remember when the chips are down; ideally at all times:

  1. Be aware of your own ignorance. Ask questions. The best way to avoid having your illusions shattered unexpectedly is to shatter them yourself. We’re always piling up new perceptions, so we have to constantly knock them down before they get too big-a bit like avalanche control for your mind. So find out what you’re ignoring. What do you think about, say, abortion, capitalism, or the annoying guy sitting next to you in lecture? Pretend you are absolutely wrong for a minute, and see what you learn.

  2. Judgments are self-fulfilling. If you figure somebody doesn’t like you, you scowl at them, they scowl back, and now it’s clear that nobody likes each other. But what if you’d smiled instead? If you feel worthless, you act worthless, and people treat you like you’re worthless. If you don’t trust people, people won’t trust you… it goes on and on.

  3. Actions are all that matter. It doesn’t matter what you believe, or intend, or who you think you are. All the world sees is what you say and do-so be very very careful about what you say and do, and nevermind the rest. When dealing with others, focus on what they do, not on why they do it.

  4. Pay attention. Find the lesson in everything. Distinguish what you can control from what you can’t. Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to. If you’re so inclined, learn yoga or mindfulness or some other skill that helps you challenge your illusions before they fall on you.

  5. Be kind. You know, the standard stuff. Be generous with your attention, and don’t take it personally when people don’t give you theirs. Never assume anyone is your enemy until they prove it to you, and realize that evil is usually a symptom of fear.

  6. Challenge yourself. Don’t give in to fear. Ever. If you give in to fear, you reward yourself by retreating from the situation. If you face up to your fear, you overcome it. You might have trouble climbing Mount Everest, or climbing out of bed in the morning, but whatever you find difficult, do it, then find the next challenge.

  7. Take care of yourself-eat right, exercise, have a routine, and have a plan. Life will seem extra pointless if you don’t give yourself a point, so set some goals, then work toward them. Pace yourself, but move forward.

  8. Be a sport. Whoever said life wasn’t fair forgot who made the rules. Nothing that can ever happen to us violates any law of nature, so we have no reason to complain. Mourn when you must-tend your wounds-but accept the event. Deal with it, don’t deny it, or it will just take longer to heal.

  9. Diversify. Stay physically, mentally, and socially active.Have a lot of wide and varied interests, and explore everything. If one thing that makes you happy falls through, you’ll have other things to keep you motivated and engaged with life.

  10. Smile. Everything’s just better when you smile. Even when you’re in excruciating pain. You feel better. Other people feel better. It’s just better.

Now, if only I could follow my own advice…

Ten things not to do on the road to happiness:

  1. Don’t give advice.
  2. Don’t listen to self-indulgent opinions pieces.
  3. Don’t forget to take out the trash. No, really. Recycling pickup in this city only comes once every two weeks-that shit piles up!
  4. Don’t forget how to have fun.
  5. Don’t assume it’s all your fault.
  6. Don’t assume it’s everyone else’s fault.
  7. Don’t be afraid to make fool of yourself.
  8. Don’t lose your sense of humour, even if it is cheesy (more puns!).
  9. Don’t invest your happiness in fleeting things.
  10. Don’t keep kicking when the horse is clearly dead.

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