"Abends am Meer" by Joe Sarembe / CC BY 2.0

Nine Evidence-Based Guidelines For A ‘Good Life’

Nov 12, 2019

By Gary M. Bakker

For over two millennia, people have been offering or imposing lists of “rules for living,” whether they be the Ten Commandments; lists of seven, twelve, or fifty Golden Rules; Essential Rules for Living or for Living “Your Best Life” or for a “Happy and Fulfilled Life”; or, very recently, Jordan Peterson’s best-selling book 12 Rules for Life.

Mostly these lists have been simply made up based on the preoccupations, political positions, or even financial interests of the lists’ authors. Rather than give us some advice or guidelines that the social sciences have shown will get many of us through life more happily, these lists tell us whether the author is politically left-leaning or right-leaning; attitudinally more individualistic (capitalist) or communitarian (socialist); or philosophically fairly cynical about human nature (the “original sin” attitude), neutral on it (“tabula rasa”), or deeply Pollyanna-esque (“noble savage”). Some are quite prescriptive (full of “oughts”) and some more descriptive (about what is). And some are just trying to sell you a book, a course of therapy, or a weekend away at an ashram.

But instead of listing guidelines that merely seem profound (Daniel Dennett has called these “deepities”), that make some intuitive sense to us, or that derive from a bias but are cloaked in confabulated logic, what if instead we drew purely from what works, from what has been found to result in the greatest happiness and survival benefits to both the individual and to society? This would inject some objective criteria for inclusion on the list. This would be both a utilitarian and an empirical approach to what has been to date largely a rule-free rule-listing exercise.

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