Don’t Kill Anyone Today

Heston-ipad

You ever notice that all the greatest advice in the world is always couched in the negative? And by “greatest advice” I mean: withstood the test of time.

Like, there were a lot of people in 1500 BC who were saying, “Be happy” but then Moses had to come along and basically just said, “Don’t Kill”. Everyone forgot the original self-help losers and said to themselves, “hmm, that’s pretty good: don’t kill.” And then to top it off, “Don’t covet thy neighbors wife”.

Note that Moses didn’t say, “have sex with someone you love and marry.” He just said, “don’t go after your neighbor’s wife.” He also didn’t say, “go out there and save lives. As many as possible, please.” He said, “Don’t kill.”

That’s a lot easier.

And Buddha didn’t say, “Be happy.” He basically laid out (in his four noble truths): “There’s a way out of suffering”. That’s it. Simple. Don’t suffer if you don’t have to. Buddha didn’t care if you were happy or not.

Ok, what about Jesus Christ?

He said, “turn the other cheek”.

In other words, his basic assumption is that someone is going to punch you in the face. His advice? Let them punch you again. He doesn’t say, “run and then go be happy.” He basically says, “be content with them punching you just as hard in the other cheek.” Because the world is a tough place.

Every MBA or “serial entrepreneur” at a tech meetup wants to change the world. They stand up and pound their chests and tell a lie, “I’m going to change the world!”

But that’s an almost impossible task. Very few businesses have actually changed the world. That’s like trying to be happy all the time. Its sort of impossible. Even Google didn’t change the world. They simply tweaked an algorithm that was a tweak of an algorithm (start with Lycos, tweak (and you get Baidu), tweak again (and you get Google), tweak again (and you get AdWords). In other words, the original search engines didn’t’ work so well. They had a lot of bad results. So google came up with a way to patch the problem.

A friend of mine once ran a chain of 100 pizza restaurants. He bought them out of near-bankruptcy and completely turned them around. I asked him what was the key to success of running 100 pizza restaurants.

“I’ll tell you the one secret,” he said. “Make round pizzas”. It turns out that too often the pizzerias were making odd-shaped pizzas. Or would be delivered with the wrong ingredients. Or would be delivered too early or too late. He basically said, “don’t make basic mistakes” and you will be successful. He didn’t set out as his goal to make “the best pizza in the world”. Nothing close (almost by definition: his chain was made up all of Dominos pizza stores). He just wanted to do nothing wrong. The stores completely turned around and became super successful.  He eventually sold them and made a lot of money.

 

Tigran Petrosian is known as one of the best chessplayers ever. He was the World Champion of chess through the 1960s and was among the top 3 or 4 players in the world for a period of 30 years. He was also known to draw an enormous amount of games, meaning, no winner or loser. The secret of his success? He always made sure all his pieces were protected by at least two other pieces. In other words, the key to consistently winning for him was simply, “don’t lose by making stupid errors”.

Everybody wants to be happy. Everyone has a list of things that will make them happy. “I want a yacht”. Or “a big house”. Or ” a lot of money”. Or “sex with a lot of people”. Or, “I just want this one deal or promotion to go through”.

But maybe make a list of the things that make you unhappy. Do you really have to be unhappy about those things today? This moment? Try to catch yourself if they are making you unhappy today. When you feel that unhappiness start to whisper in your brain take a step back and say, “do i really need to be thinking about this this very second?” Almost all the time, the answer is “no”.

“But I really need to respond to this angry email from my boss!” you might say. And I would say, “no you don’t.” Its a vacation day.  Let it rest for a day. Go see “The Amazing Spiderman” out in movies today. I’m going to do that.

For most people in the US today is a day off. Most things you are unhappy about are out of your control. So try to be a little less unhappy about them. Just for today. Take a vacation from unhappiness. Just for today. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Yesterday is long gone.

I worry about money. About health. About my relationships. About my kids. About emails I have to return. All these things give me stress. And stress is related to almost 99% of illnesses. But these are just thoughts. I don’t need them. I’m not going to kill today. My self.

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  • N012

    Great article James, life’s all about sustainability

  • http://twitter.com/NoahLampert NoahLampert

    Everything changes. If we focus on what’s happening right NOW, there’s nothing to be unhappy about.

    Nice post, James.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sierra-Volk/100002620272173 Sierra Volk

    Okay, I won’t.

    Wait wait! – Is this our “We the People” day, or our “We hold these truths to be self-evident” day? Or maybe it’s our “Four score and seven years ago” day? Ah, hell, whatever – it’s our “Burgers and Beer and Things That Go Boom!” day. Huzzah.

    (And, btw, you forgot one: “Don’t blow off your fingers with that cherry bomb.”

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I think its a holiday to make stupid people go blind. Apparently 400 people a year go blind from fireworks.

  • http://www.salimapirani.com/ Salima

    interesting commentary on what we hear and how we respond to it.. on one hand aspirational advice is less tangible (save the world/save your self), perhaps because we actually reside in the opposite (kill)… and then there’s the thing with neurolinguistic programming… when we say “don’t do this” for some reason a lot of people won’t hear the “don’t” and only hear the “do this”… maybe a reason why we continue residing in “kill”.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Thats inteesting about the NLP aspect. However, I think before that, people look outside of themselves for happiness but there’s a lot of garbage inside (instincts to worry, to be anxious, to kill (not literally but even in small ways) ) that need tending to first. Without these basics its harder for people to be happy.

      • http://www.salimapirani.com/ Salima

        yes we do look outside ourselves for happiness – whether it’s comfort, pleasure, stimulation, whatever turns our crank. we forget that real happiness can’t come from reaching out to something.. and yes we need to look inside for that and to be rid of the garbage. when you wrote about jesus saying ‘turn the other cheek’ – that demonstrates real and true happiness. it doesn’t suddenly go away when you get slapped in the face.

  • http://twitter.com/JTio J Allen

    I just bought my movie tickets, but I think I will see Ted. :)

  • Jill

    Great post. Love the pic of Moses Heston and the iPads. From the mouth of a child I sum up the human condition on this planet in a little tune, pee poop diarrhea throw up…pee poop diarrhea throw up. musical notes

  • http://mefrain.blogspot.com/ Efrain

    Great post James. Life’s been terrible for me lately. Like, worst part of my life so far, terrible. Don’t you ever wish you could go in a time machine and go forward in time just so you wont have to consciously deal with everything. To skip the pain. But oh well, I’ll tough it out. Enjoy the day everyone. Thanks!

  • kamalravikant

    I like it. So, the James Altucher quotable advice that will stand the test of time is perhaps the same as Bobby McFerrin: “don’t worry, be happy”

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Haha, although I’d leave out the second part. If we just avoid worries its probably good enough.

      • kamalravikant

        I read something on Claudia’s blog that’s quite transformative. She has a photo of some yogi on the right bar with the caption, “why fear?” I’ve started asking myself that when I feel fear come up. And it really does stop it. Makes the conscious mind go, “um, well, um….” and that shifts the thought.

        • http://mefrain.blogspot.com/ Efrain

          Kamal, yes! Same here. It’s like, it’s just some feeling. But it’s not real. We give fear so much life. But it’s never as bad as we think.

  • http://justfeltlikeblogging.wordpress.com/ Laszlo

    Funny, that earlier this morning I started to reply for a work related email, then stopped typing… Then I paid my daily visit to your blog James to find this post… :-)

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Good thing you were saved!

  • Eric Chaffee

    Whoa, James. Jesus never said “be a punching bag.” Reading between the lines, which is my approach to all scriptures, I find him saying “turn the other cheek” — once you truly are able to see the image and likeness of God in your opponent. Then, to borrow a Swedish proverb, ‘the King in the man will respond.’ ~eric.

    • ciscorandori

      Most people think of the Jesus quote about loving God and “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself” … Love doesn’t seem to be much of a negative concept …

  • alpha traits

    K.I.S.S – Keep it simple stupid.

  • http://twitter.com/sayahillman Saya Hillman

    “Take a vacation from unhappiness.”

    Ever since I adopted this philosophy and adopted it to all areas of my life, my life has been amazing —
    * Eight years of the most ridiculous, fulfilling, can’t believe I make a living doing this self-employment
    * Meet the most interesting, supportive, passionate people day after day
    * Huge personal growth via scaring the shit out of myself (and doing experiment after experiment, loved your post about that!)
    * Met best friend turned boyfriend turned fiance via one of my own events (http://macncheeseproductions.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/thought-he-was-going-to-pass-gas-instead-he-proposed/)

    That’s not to say that sometimes things don’t suck. My health insurance. My stretch marks. My choice of words with some. My untame-able frizzy hair.

    But overall, life is great and that’s what I choose to focus on!

    Thanks for telling folk what should be common-sense and done continually James, but what we often need reminders to do! Life truly is so much better when you immerse yourself in positivity.

  • Jodi G

    Great Jewish proverb “this too shall pass” – good times pass, but so do the bad. Nothing is constant. I use that quote to remind me to either enjoy the moment (good times) and to exhale and relax during the bad. I’m new to the blog, really enjoying!

  • murali

    Be unhappy with unhappy thoughts!

  • murali

    meant:

    one must show one’s unhappiness towards the fact that one is having unhappy thoughts, and try to look into the reason behind such thoughts..

  • http://twitter.com/andrislag Andris Lagsdin

    It’s a happy day! Thanks for your words!

  • http://twitter.com/40z 40z.com

    One of the best ways to not worry for a time, that works for most people… put on some music you love. Or make some up. Here is a great clip by a musician friend: He creates a song right in front of your eyes
    http://youtu.be/5GYrFXid8LI

  • http://www.facebook.com/robin.heinen Robin Heinen

    This is exactly what I meant in my comment on your last post. happiness should never be the goal. accepting good and bad sides of life is much better. happiness will be the result. sounds like bs, but people should try it for a few weeks, really analyze your thoughts, accept the bad feelings, acknowledge the good ones. live a complete life, in stead of a partial one filled with fighting bad thoughts. it works.

  • http://twitter.com/arzvi arzvi

    You guys live in the States which respects individuality more than any other country out in this world. I live in India, where everyday people spend more time in swearing, swindling others’ money, being rude and sublimaly say that traditionally we are crap and that we need to change- in a direction which involves more spending, and inturn feeding their businesses. We don’t have the same privelege with just not doing bad, even in Africa/middle East, the society is run like what the Visitors were put through in the series ‘V’ – a herded one.
    There are sometimes you need to go the distance and do something for society to make them whole more happier.

  • http://twitter.com/DavidNLarson David Larson

    I never thought of this in this way before. It brought to mind the phrase physicians hear from the very beginning, “Do no harm.”. Thanks, you inspire.

  • Daniel

    Hi James,
    I was excited to read this because you described a discovery I made when I turned 50 (about 6 years ago). I realized that happiness wasn’t anything but the absence of unhappiness. You can’t do anything to become happy – that is impossible. But unhappiness is easy to deal with. Just address the unhappy situations proactively to eliminate them (through moral responsible actions), or change your mindset about the unalterable situations though serenity and acceptance (love, goodwill, gratitude, forgiveness, etc.). I recognize there are situations which are joyful, or delightful, but these do not represent, nor do they bring happiness. They are simply wonderful things which add color and dimention to our view of the world and mental outlook. I am constantly drawing the marrow of delight out of thing and occurrences I find all around me everywhere. However, I know this is not happiness. When I discovered this my life really changed. Thank you for writing about this.

  • http://twitter.com/soyroberto roberto シ

    Usually best things come from common sense, this is no different, good article

  • kamalravikant

    Oh man, I love this post.

    • http://twitter.com/runningdmc Dawn Casey-Rowe

      Me, too. It’s so true that it still makes me laugh–maybe James wants to edit the last line (though it’s an effective strategy, to be sure) to include going beyond not killing yourself today but “loving yourself.” Nice job.

  • Bob

    I don’t know why but I feel like this post was very Andy Rooney-esque