In order to get along in society, we live by a list of things that we should and shouldn’t do. We start compiling that list from our first breath and we continually revise it until our last. It is a guiding force of our lives. It informs our thoughts and actions. Although there is significant overlap from list to list, each of us has our own unique list and a unique way of following it.

Some people take great pride in thinking and behaving in strict adherence to the list. They do all the shoulds and avoid all of the shouldn’ts. Others take equally great pride in thumbing their noses at the list and engaging in the shouldn’ts, while ignoring the shoulds.

Creating the perfect list is the key to a happy life. If we knew exactly what we should and shouldn’t do in each situation we would have no problems. Unfortunately, no list can do that for us. As we continually encounter new situations, we hopefully act according to our best guess at what we should and shouldn’t do. If we feel generally happy, we will be satisfied with our list and our ability to follow the list. If we feel generally awful, we will either fault our lists or ourselves for not being able to adhere to the list. If our list says we shouldn’t eat ice cream and we eat ice cream, if we are happy, we will recognize that our list was wrong about ice cream and we will feel happy eating ice cream. If we are unhappy, we will be upset either because ice cream was on the wrong side of the list and the list was faulty, or because we were too weak or otherwise inadequate in our ability to live up to our list. Either way, our enjoyment of the ice cream is tainted.

Before a boat tips over, it lists to one side or the other. In order to to correct a listing boat you bring it back into balance. No listing. Should and shouldn’t have heavy moral implications. If the list you follow causes you undue anguish, you should just come back to center and correct the list. Start with the basics. You should be able to find happiness, you shouldn’t worry too much if you are not feeling happy right now. You should be nice to yourself and to others. If you, or those around you, seem to be suffering for lack of balance, there’s plenty of hope, it’s just listing.


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