Create Your Own Personal Manifesto

Gretchen Rubin on making your own personal happiness

I love personal manifestos — for instance, on the home pages of their blogs, Bob Sutton includes his 17 Things I Believe about work and Madame X lists My Rules about money.

I recently read Frank Lloyd Wright’s Autobiography — a very thought-provoking work. In it, he includes a list of the “Fellowship Assets” that he outlined for the architecture apprentices he worked with at Taliesin, his summer home, studio, and school:

1. An honest ego in a healthy body

2. An eye to see nature

3. A heart to feel nature

4. Courage to follow nature

5. The sense of proportion (humor)

6. Appreciation of work as idea and idea as work

7. Fertility of imagination

8. Capacity for faith and rebellion

9. Disregard for commonplace (inorganic) elegance

10. Instinctive cooperation

This list was interesting to me, because although it’s quite short, it packs in a lot of big ideas and strongly held views. It really started me thinking — to ask, “What does Wright mean by ‘inorganic’ or even ‘nature’?” “What’s an ‘honest ego’?” I particularly loved #5 — the inclusion of humor on this list, and the tying of humor to a sense of proportion. I’d never thought of humor as an expression of a sense of proportion, but I think that’s one reason that humor can be so helpful at difficult moments.

Writing a personal manifesto is a very interesting exercise; it forces you to articulate your values. Have you ever written a manifesto for yourself? Was it a useful exercise? I wrote my manifesto, though I should probably update it.

Editor’s Note: Gretchen Rubin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project.  Each Wednesday is tip day on her blog.

5 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Gretchen .  .  . While I have never taken time to actually write my thoughts down, I find myself actively living my own beliefs . . . and over time, those beliefs have become stronger.
    A strong belief in self which comes with the feeling of an inner drive that propels me ahead,  feeling that almost anything in life is possible if we but go for it.  Along the way, we are finding and developing our natural gifts, hopefully using them in ways that benefit others.  I find that with the small successes, the larger ones also, gives me – in return – an inner glow that sustains me every day.
    Being self-aware is something that grows over time.  Once we stop thinking of ourselves, finding out eyes open — actually seeking out others who we can learn from, grow from, and sometimes finding them becoming new friends, we notice that our own lives are enriched and fuller.  We often feel “a rush”.  While we probably don’t express it, we know that our life — with all its ups and downs that all lives have – is full to bursting.  Each connection we make is like adding a piece to the jigsaw puzzle of life, tapping it in, with the end result that these times add to my own belief that we must live our lives to the fullest.
    For lack of another expression that fits, I believe we are – or should be – self-empowered.
    Face it, it is WE that have the responsibility  for our own actions.  It is each of us who can develop the dignity and confidence and — yes – self-value.  If we have a strong feeling of self-empowerment, we find that we can recover from the blows, the disappointments, the sorrows of life.  Yes, if we feel as we do, we learn by our setbacks — often learning new and great lessons — and the next time ’round, we are so much strong and have a much greater ability to become stronger.
    The small things that could be written — the things that lie in my heart – are all part of the larger whole I believe.  They all figure in the judgments we make constantly in life, the choices that may change over time, but together make us the person we have chosen to be.
    Our lives are finite.  We have no idea what may lie around the corner for us.  And so . . .
    we must live for today in ways that hopefully will often prove that we are doing the best way we can at the very least.  And sometimes, all our pieces come together so perfectly that we can proudly say that we have done our best — and we have proven worthy of what has been our highest hopes. 
    We can ask for no more.

  2. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Personal manifestos change over the years as we gain hands on life experience and grapple with real life issues. A niece in college informed me that I was living one hell of a life because I’d not set enough personal goals. I had to laugh at her inexperience because life steps to challenge us once we are out on our own.
    We all appreciate things in our own way and in our own time. I’d never use the term instinctive cooperation with anyone. Most of the people I know try to do the right thing for the right reason but they would never instinctively cooperate with anyone. They might help if it met their personal ideals but they won’t walk the line for someone else. Too much of that is dictated by religion, politics and personal belief systems that may not mesh with theirs.
    Faith is a word until we are called on to demonstrate it in public and actually stand up for our belief system. Courage can be quiet or overt. Courage is our military defensing us it is also a woman leaving an abusive situation or a hero saving someone in public. It brands you when you understand the real meaning for yourself.
    The personal manifestos we write will change from year to year until the first one becomes an exercise in humor – man plans – God laughs as we reach middle age and beyond. They do serve as a way to connect with the goals we are setting for ourselves at certain life stages.

  3. avatar hummer55 says:

    My Personal Manifesto
    Let me tell you something…a story, a metaphor, some lesson that is not without compassion. In my time I have entertained and charmed many, but today, my Manifesto appears before you, dear reader, not to please you, but to express my desire for the Greater Good. Ultimately, if I am unhappy about something, my world is askew, and I cannot rest until I have addressed it. When I go in with an agenda to fix a problem, it tends to work well on printers and torn quilts, not so well on matters of the human condition that pull and tug at my heart. When I surrender to the truth that something is broken, I am open to change and growth.
    Here goes:
    No matter how much you may know, there is always someone who knows more and maybe better than you. Sit at their feet respectfully as a student, but remember that you are the one who knows yourself best. Trust your heart’s voice, no matter what.
    Listening brings knowledge. Knowledge leads to informed decision making. Know when to be still, and be in stillness, so that God can reach you. Know that at other times, you must speak and keep speaking, do and keep doing, until you are spent. Seek balance.
    Resting is healthy. We may need a minute of rest, or years of rest, but without it, we unravel. Pause each day and rest in some act of beauty, comfort or sleep. Stasis can feel like a reprieve from life’s challenges, but it is false. It comes in the guise of the quick fix, and leaves us depleted and at war with our bodies and our true selves.
    Work hard and wear a clean shirt every day. Start fresh. Doing your best is always relative, but when you have, you know it, and it shows. This is very attractive to others and they may even follow your example.
    Humor and playfulness are brilliant. Levity is a gift, and when it visits you, delight in it as you would in the face of someone you haven’t seen for a while and love dearly. When times turn dark, it could save your life.
    When the warrior surrenders, the battle no longer exists. As a warrior, a rebel, a parent and a leader, I have experienced victory and defeat, and made a retreat when the fight was too much for me. Somehow, miraculously, events came full circle, and often justice was done without my involvement! Amazing. This has been tremendously gratifying! The other scenario, the unfairness of life, could be entitled “embracing the mystery”.
    The Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi means accepting imperfections as an inherent part of experiencing beauty. People are imperfect too, and to embrace our flaws is to own our beauty. This is easier said than done, but it helps as we feminine ones age to remember that shining from within is just as important as sparkling on the outside. Who says that lipstick and enlightenment can’t coexist?

  4. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Gretchen, I wrote one for myself 8 years ago after a break up, and like you, it needs to be updated. Who I am today is a FAR cry from who I was when I first wrote my Manifesto.
    They are such an important tool for each of us, its unfortunate most people don’t write them for themselves. They serve (in my opinion) as a mental GPS of sorts. A map to keep you on course. Something to steer you down the right path and pull you in an opposite direction when you start to stray to far away from what is listed on your respective list of beliefs and principles.