Your guide to the best life ever (illustrated for your reading pleasure)

Okay, let’s get to the meat of the matter. If you want to have the best life ever, then you have to focus on seven areas in your life.

Cartoons by John P. Weiss

Congratulations! Clearly, you’re a discriminating reader in search of answers. You bypassed the usual self-help piffle to swim in deeper waters. Intuitively, you sense that this humble cartoonist holds the secrets to a better life.

Then again, maybe you’re just desperate and decided to throw caution to the wind. Whichever path, razor discernment or reckless abandon, I’m glad you’re here.

In the end, we all want a better life.

Take a deep breath ,and solace in the fact that the advice herein didn’t cost you a cent. Some say free advice is worth the price you pay, but don’t worry about that. There’s some wisdom here, I promise. And a few cartoons.

All these dimensions

What are my qualifications for dispensing life advice? Well, I have a master’s degree in criminal justice administration, and was a cop for over 26 years. I experienced a police shooting, high speed pursuits, death scenes, violence, the challenges of shift work, and even miniature horses.

That’s me, horsing around at work.

I dealt with criminals, addicts, suicides, mentally ill, child abusers, and tragic souls on the margins of society. As a police chief I mentored, hired, fired, and hopefully inspired others.

I shepherded my father through end of life and care for an aging mother with Parkinson’s disease.

I’m a husband, father, brother and friend. I’ve been a voracious reader, writer and artist most of my life. All these dimensions, and the fact that I’m no longer a spring chicken, give me some perspective on the human condition.

Cartoons by John P. Weiss

The benefit of the doubt

It’s not lost on me that some people dislike cops. Maybe you got a ticket or your friend was arrested? Or worse, you might have been mistreated by someone in uniform. Sometimes such things happen, and it’s awful. It destroys trust and puts a black eye on all of law enforcement, which only makes the job harder.

There are bad eggs in every profession, and law enforcement is no different. But on balance, the majority of cops I served with are hard working, decent men and women. All I ask is that you give me the benefit of the doubt. Digest what I share here and decide if the advice is of value. If not, at least you have the cartoons to enjoy.

Cops tend to favor directness and simplicity. We prefer the “thirty word or less” version over long winded answers. We tend towards pragmatism over theory. When you’re rolling from call to call, you push for efficiency.

When I was still in graduate school, I delighted in academic debates and theoretical constructs. But on the street and in courtrooms, I focused on the concrete. Facts versus conjecture. So, in the interest of brevity, I won’t pussyfoot around. Just straight forward, unvarnished, life advice.

Sound good to you? Great. Let’s dive into the heart of the matter.

How do we live a better life?

We start by simplifying. Getting back to basics. Developing new habits and losing bad ones. Honing our personal discipline. Don’t worry, I’ll get more specific momentarily. Much of my advice is common sense, but somehow people like to complicate things. We need to knock that off.

United States Navy Seal and Rhodes Scholar Eric Greitens once said in a speech:

“We already know what we need to do.”

No, please don’t buy more chips and beer.

He’s right. The solutions to most of our problems are fairly obvious. It’s usually that we don’t want to face them, or the hard work that may be required to change.

Even when we figure out how to get our act together, we must then figure out how to get along with other people.

Much of the world is divided by dogma and politics. There’s nothing wrong with beliefs, but they often get in the way of being decent to one another.

What unites us is much broader than what divides us, but we seem attracted like flies to one another’s dirty laundry. We shout at people we disagree with instead of listening. We’d rather win than find a win/win.

Children aren’t afflicted with dogma. They just want to play with one another and laugh. We lose that when we grow up, which is a pity.

Seven areas in your life

Okay, let’s get to the meat of the matter. If you want to have the best life ever, then you have to focus on seven areas in your life. Let’s tackle them one by one.

1. Health

It all starts here. Personal health is the most powerful yet neglected aspect to living a better life. It’s a billion dollar industry spanning tons of self help books, products, programs and procedures.

Mainstream media bombards us with images of beautiful people, six pack abs, hair extensions, white teeth and more. If such images spur you to get in shape, great. Unfortunately, such images often depress a lot of folks. And you know how they cope? They reach for a donut.

Okay, they reach for some chips. Or a twelve pack. All of which adds weight and subtracts motivation.

Let me save you a whole lot of money on self help books, diet pills and the rest of that stuff. If you want to improve your health and have a better life, here’s what you need to do:

1. Eat Less (and healthier)

2. Exercise More

3. Sleep More

Yeah, it really is that simple. The reason people don’t do it is because they lack discipline. We all have our excuses. I’m depressed. I have bad knees. I’m too busy. Sorry, I don’t buy it and neither should you.

Yes, some folks have lousy metabolisms or a propensity for weight. Others are blessed with slender physiques. Life isn’t fair, I know.

Now, before you dive into an exercise program, check with your doctor and make sure you’re good to go. If an underlying condition is found, don’t despair. There’s an exercise regimen for just about everything, from a bum ticker to asthma. Also, consider talking to a dietician to improve what you eat.

The folks at Nike really nailed it with their slogan “Just Do It.” You have to make the decision that you’re ready to change your life. That means intentionally creating new habits and sticking to them.

A good place to start is going to bed earlier. Ideally, you should get 8 hours of sleep. Don’t eat anything after 6pm. You’ll sleep better. By the way, this habit alone will help you shed weight.

So many excuses, so little time.

Next, you need to get up early. Like 5 or 6 am. Yeah, I know. But do it for a month and you strangely adjust. Use that time for aerobic exercise. Start by walking. Maybe build up to light jogging. Bad knees or back? Try bicycling or swimming. Even better, adopt a whole body workout that uses multiple muscle groups. Like those hardcore CrossFit people.

The point is, get that heart rate up and build a sweat. Mix up your exercise routine with some light weight training or gradual cross training. Use the internet to research workout programs. Find the best fit for you.

If you can afford it, hire a personal trainer. I did, and discovered all the things I was doing wrong. Also, a personal trainer is an investment in yourself. It’s harder to flake when you’re paying someone to help you work out.

Create habits to make exercise easier. Like leaving your jogging shoes by the door, as a visible cue. Join others. Use phone apps to measure progress. Schedule it, so it happens.

Bottom line, once you commit to regular exercise, you’ll not only feel better and have more energy, you’ll discover productivity and growth in other areas of your life. I don’t know why this happens, but it does. Trust me.

Selfie at the gym.

One final tip. Beware alcohol. Our society is awash in it. Weekend wine parties, cocktails after work, football game beer bashes. Alcohol loosens tongues and gladdens hearts, but it’s full of empty calories. And sometimes hangovers and regrets.

Moderation is the key. A few glasses of red wine are reportedly good for the heart. A drink after a stressful day can help you relax and unwind. The key is to not have your life revolve around the stuff.

If all you’re doing is going from one wine party to another, it’s time to do some serious reassessment. Your focus should be on your family, passions and work. Booze should complement those things, not replace them.

One guy I admire is country music artist Tim McGraw. Years ago, he came to terms with the fact that he had a drinking problem. So he quit. Cold turkey. He replaced drinking with physical fitness. The guy is ripped, healthy and an inspiration to anyone who wants to make more of their life.

If you’re someone who mourns every empty bottle or craves “just one more,” think about packing it in. Tim McGraw did it, and so can you.

There are online sobriety apps that can help, as well as programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. There’s no shame in admitting and then conquering alcohol abuse disorder. Thousands do it every day, and live healthier, happier lives. Not to mention, no more hangovers!

Take the advice in one of Tim McGraw’s songs:

“Temptation may come that ain’t no sin, you get stronger every time that you don’t give in.”

One more thing. Don’t use drugs. Period. They don’t lead to anything worthwhile except heartache and poor health. Pot smoke ravages your lungs. All drugs (including alcohol) tend to demotivate people and seldom bring out their best.

I know, some will argue that getting high opens the portals of creativity. Perhaps. And yes, I concede that marijuana has been beneficial for certain illnesses. But in the end, many just want to get high. Why are they self-medicating? Is there a healthier way to address the underlying issues? I think so.

No judgement here. I understand that some people are hurting, and need to escape. It’s just that I’ve seen too much harm from these substances. Most notably, the terrible opioid crisis that’s stealing lives and destroying families. Drugs (except for legitimate, medicinal purposes) rob people of their best selves. If you want a better life, skip drugs.

Here’s your quick recap. Eat less and healthier. Exercise more. Sleep more. Drink in moderation (or not at all). Don’t take drugs. Do these things and you’ll enjoy a better life.

2. Family

We don’t get to choose our family. It may not be fair, but neither is life. From the outside looking in, some families seem really squared away. Maybe they are, but most families have their trials and tribulations.

If you want a better life, stop comparing your family to others. By “your family” I’m referring to both the one you grew up with and the one you have now (if you have one).

It’s only natural to compare. We do it all the time. We compare our looks to others. Our incomes to others. Sometimes, a bit of comparison can motivate us to make positive changes. If your buddy is in great shape and you’re not, perhaps that touch of envy will motivate you to work out. In this respect, a bit of comparison can be productive. But be careful, this is a slippery slope.

As President Theodore Roosevelt said:

“ Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I’ve written about the risks of comparison before.

We are all unique. Different DNA, temperaments, backgrounds, talents.

It is far better to focus on your own self improvement, than to beat yourself up because you don’t look like Brad Pitt or have Julia Robert’s bank account. Besides, have you ever noticed how many celebrities seem unhappy? Between the divorces, affairs, substance abuse and fragile egos, a lot of them seem pretty miserable.

Money and fame are no guarantee for happiness. The world doesn’t need another Brad Pitt. The world needs you. Your uniqueness and individuality.

Psychologist Gordon Livingston has written some wonderful books including “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart.” In the book, Dr. Livingston writes the following:

“The statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas.”

In short, what he’s saying is that you can’t change the past. Dwelling on it won’t make you happy. It will just make you miserable. Better to focus on today, and what you need to do for a brighter tomorrow.

You’ll note that Dr. Livingston used a qualifier in his statement. The word “most.” Some people suffered from terrible sexual, physical or emotional abuse. This level of trauma often requires professional therapy to work through. Seeking such help can literally change your life for the better.

Sometimes our parents and/or family members are flawed human beings. Life beat them down, or they never learned how to cope. Maybe they were victims, criminals or addicts. Maybe their dreams were crushed.

It’s so easy to judge them until mortgages, parenting, marital discord and the indignities of aging finally reach our doorstep. Then, we gain perspective. Maybe even a bit of empathy.

Parenting is hard work. It requires great sacrifice. Some people are well intentioned but ill equipped to parent. I’ve often said that we require a license to drive, fish, fly and hunt, but any fool can have a kid.

Here’s a little haiku poem I wrote and illustrated about parenting:

Our families are sometimes the ones who wound us the most.

I’ve read that anger is a hot coal you hold in your hand. You can throw it at the person you hate, but you still burn your hand.

So what do you do? You forgive. Forgiveness is a gift you give the person who hurt you and a gift you give yourself. When we forgive, we are not dismissing the harm done to us. Nor are we minimizing or condoning it. What we are doing is transcending it.

Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, rather, it’s the ultimate form of strength. We decide not to be ruled any more by pain, shame, rage or sadness.

We take the moral high ground and choose to close the door on childhood trauma, sadness and pain. Is it easy? No. But it is freeing and an excellent way to learn how to live again.

For a lot of people who end up having children of their own, they gain a deeper appreciation for their parents. Your parents’ stupid rules and boundaries when you were a bratty teenager suddenly make a lot of sense when you become a parent.

A lot of this stuff applies to brothers and sisters, too. They drive us crazy when we‘re kids. But as you age, you’ll likely draw closer. Be thankful for them. They are keepers of memories you’ve forgotten. Also, you’ll need them when you lose your parents. If you’re estranged from your brother(s) or sister(s), reread the paragraph above about forgiveness. Find the courage to bury the hatchet and pick up the phone.

My wife often says, “Love ’em while you got ‘em.” Life is busy and there is much to do, but make time to visit with your parents and family. Especially if they’re elderly. Take them to appointments. Be there for them.

When the bloom of youth departs, and a sense of irrelevancy creeps in after retirement, aging parents often face sadness, isolation and depression. This is when they need you the most.

It’ll likely be when your career is in full swing and the kids are wearing you out. Life seems to delight in bad timing. In midlife, we never seem to have enough time. Find the time for your aging parents and family.

Doing the right thing is often inconvenient.

Columnist George Will once wrote:

“Memories are flowers in our winter.”

When our bodies betray us and infirmity arrives, the walls close in around us. We venture out less and cannot move about as we once did.

Beyond television, books, friends, a hobby and food, the pleasures of life dwindle. Memories and good conversation become more important. This is where you come in. You hold the power to brighten an aging family member’s world, simply by visiting. And most importantly, by sharing those precious memories. Those flowers in our winter.

If you want a better life, make time for your parents and aging family members. When they’re gone you’ll be glad you were there for them. And hopefully, if you have children, they’ll take note of how you treated your folks and do the same for you some day.

Since we’re still on the topic of family, let’s not forget the one you started. If you’re married with children or simply partnered with another and have kids, then you have a family.

Family life can be immensely rewarding and tremendously challenging. Raising children is a 24/7 job that lasts roughly twenty years. Sometimes more.

If you’re in a relationship and enjoy the freedom to eat out, travel, pursue hobbies and quiet down time, you might want to hold off on the kid thing. Don’t get me wrong, children are gifts from God. But if you’re an impatient soul, egocentric or intensely ambitious, having a child will likely turn your world upside down.

Don’t have a kid to please your partner or parents. In fact, if you don’t want children, you need to say so to any prospective partner. There are enough sad and ignored children in this world. Don’t add another.

For those of you who have children, partners or spouses, you must never forget that they are the most treasured part of your life. Money, status, fame and popularity are nice. But family eclipses all those things.

When we’re still in the early years of our careers and ambition whispers, it’s easy to neglect our spouse and family. Yes, sacrifices have to be made to support the family. But fight hard to make those little league games. Stay on top of anniversaries and birthdays. More than anything, look for the little things you can do for your family. This is the stuff they will remember most.

Here are a few ideas:

Leave little notes of encouragement and/or cartoons in your kid’s school lunch.

Leave hidden love notes for your spouse to discover. Maybe under her pillow, or in her purse.

Notice the little things family members contribute to your home and comment on them.

Write your spouse a monthly love letter and mail it to her. They’re more special than texts and email.

Whatever you do, don’t be this guy.

Cheerfully volunteer to see that romantic movie, even though it’s not your cup of tea. Or, go see his superhero movie, and cheer for the good guys.

Go outside and actually play with your kid(s).

Do the laundry or dishes for him/her, unexpectedly.

Bring your partner or spouse breakfast in bed.

Be this guy!

I could go on, but you get the point. Most of all, if you want a better life, give your spouse and kids your undivided attention.

Put that newspaper down when your son comes up to tell you about his day. Turn off the television when your daughter wants to tell you about school. Rush to help your wife with the groceries and then listen intently, without interrupting or changing the subject, as she tells you about her day.

Be this guy!

You must invest in your family every day. The older you get the more you’ll realize what a lifelong gift your family is. If you want a better life, put your family first.

3. Friends

Next to your health and family, friends are the greatest gifts in life. Quality is far more important than quantity. Friends are unique, too, because the best of them stand by you through life.

A spouse or significant other may be your friend, but the intimacy you share adds a deeper and more complex element to the relationship. The rewards are greater, but the inevitable friction must be navigated. Friendships don’t include this element, generally. Which is why we often see marriages end but friendships last a lifetime.

If you want good friends, then you have to be a good friend. That means never taking your friends for granted and always wanting the best for them. There should be no unhealthy competition among friends. You should be happy for their successes and not envious.

Make time for hospital trips when friends are ill. Keep track of birthdays and anniversaries. Send their kids gifts on special occasions and graduations. Forgive them when they offend you. Reciprocate with dinners and parties.

If you want a better life, allow good people to come into your world and develop into friends. It’s amazing how much a good friend can improve the quality of your life. They can be a shoulder to cry on. Or the first person you call with great news. Sometimes, they can be your conscience or the voice of reason when your judgement is clouded.

Friendships take effort. Your life will get busy and sometimes friends will feel like impositions. Resist this. Make time to call them. Phone calls trump text messages and emails, which are less intimate. Even better, go see them.

Some friendships will wane or one of you will outgrow the other. The seasons of our lives change. That buddy you loved hanging out with in college may be very different now. Maybe you’re married with kids and he’s still hitting the pubs. So be it. Don’t force a friendship that no longer holds the magic.

Don’t be bitter if a friend becomes distant or moves on. People change. Be thankful for the fun you had, and wish old friends well.

Friends can come from unexpected places. Be careful not to judge a book by its cover. My father was an administrative law judge, historian, voracious reader and gifted intellectual. He worked with many brilliant judges, attorneys and professionals. Yet it was his barber, a contractor and a cowboy who became his best friends.

Pat the barber, was a natural conversationist and knowledgable on many subjects. My father loved Pat’s easy nature, nimble mind and non competitive disposition. Pat truly loved people and was entirely authentic. He didn’t need to impress anyone.

Pat the barber.

You’d think my father would attract friends with similar backgrounds, education and intellectual rigor. But Pat was just easier to chat with and unconcerned with status or position. He was authentic.

Cory was a local contractor that did work for my father. Cory had an interest in military history, which happened to be a passion of my father’s. The two would often talk for hours at home, looking at various books from my father’s extensive library. They became good friends and enjoyed each other’s company.

Jonce was a neighbor of my father’s. Jonce was a successful building contractor who was also a cowboy and talented barrel racer. Despite having an 8th grade education, Jonce was very intelligent and had that Oklahoma cowboy charm. He also was a talented builder whose company grew into a multi-million dollar business. My father instantly liked Jonce because he had no pretensions and, like Pat the barber, was entirely authentic. Jonce and my father enjoyed each other’s company.

The point here is that if you want a better life, you need to have some good friends. And you never know where those friends will come from or what they’ll look like. Either way, strive to be a good friend and take care of the friends you have.

4. Love

An absolute necessity to a better life is love. Healthy human beings need love. I believe it’s what gives life its greatest meaning and fulfillment. There are many forms of love, but the love we’ll explore here is the stuff that poets write about and divorce attorneys exploit. It’s the, “I just met the person of my dreams and can’t stop thinking about him/her,” kind of love.

In my career, I’ve seen a lot of dysfunctional relationships, not to mention domestic violence. A lot of people get together for the wrong reasons. Maybe they make great lovers, but have absolutely nothing in common. Some marry for money. Others for looks. Sometimes it works out. Often, it doesn’t.

So where do you find “the one?” The person who is going to be there for you over the long haul? The one who is truly marriage material? Well, there are no guarantees, but if you want a better life, look for someone who is KIND.

Kindness is one of the most important qualities in a significant other. Kind people tend to be more patient, forgiving, encouraging and loving.

If you’re single and dating, look for how he/she treats others. Does she say “thank you” to the water boy in a restaurant? Does he yell impatiently at people in traffic? How does she treat her parents? Does he hold the door for strangers?

Of course, physical attraction and chemistry matter. And there are kind people who might be lazy, unmotivated, etc. But in general, if you are fortunate enough to find someone who is kind, odds are you’ll go on to have a wonderful relationship.

The only other tidbit about love is this: Be cautious with emotionally damaged people. I know, that sounds harsh, but it’s hard to fix a broken person. If you dive into a relationship with a narcissist or consummate liar, it’s probably going to be rough sledding.

If you are going to be in a happy, loving relationship with someone, here’s another strong piece of advice: Happiness comes from within. It’s not the job of your significant other, parents, friends, boss or kids to make you happy. You have to do that. Sure, others in your life might bring you happiness. They might also bring you sadness. But you have the power to decide how to react.

Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who endured life in a Dachau affiliated concentration camp. Frankl discovered the importance of meaning in all forms of existence, even in terrible conditions like a concentration camp. In his book “Man’s Search For Meaning” he notes that you may not have control over conditions around you, but you have control over how to react to them.

Part of being in love is a healthy sex life. There are more qualified people than me to offer advice in this area. Suffice to say, a healthy sex life involves listening to and respecting your partner.

Certainly, staying healthy and fit can contribute to a better sex life. Intimacy is greatly influenced by the things you do outside the bedroom. Those little love notes you leave her. Your surprise visit at the office to bring him lunch. Talking and listening. Supporting each other’s passions and dreams. If you want a better love life, don’t forget the little things. And be kind to one another.

Okay, let’s recap. When it comes to love, try to find someone who is kind. Avoid emotionally damaged people. Remember that happiness comes from within. You are responsible for your happiness. Little acts of kindness improve intimacy. Do these things to have a better life.

5. Work

Most folks have heard the saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” I have a bone to pick with that one. It’s just not true for lots of people. How many aspiring actors are still waiting tables in Los Angeles? There’s often a great chasm between dreams and reality. When it comes to work, a dose of pragmatism is in order. Not all hobbies generate a living wage.

Unless you’re a mega lottery winner or trust fund kid, chances are you have to work for a living. Choosing what kind of work you’d like to do is the tricky part.

When I was a kid all I did was draw. I wanted to study art but my father suggested a more “conservative career route.” He recognized my aptitude for art but knew it was a difficult profession to make a living in.

I had some interest in the criminal justice field, thanks to an articulate Sheriff’s deputy who once visited my high school Government class. I ended up studying criminal justice in college and grad school, all of which led to my career in law enforcement.

Here’s the fascinating thing. If you find a career that somewhat interests you, you can build upon that and have a very satisfying professional life. You don’t have to give up on your dreams. You just have to juggle a bit.

Yes, there are exceptions. People who doggedly followed their dream of becoming a musician, artist or actor and found great success. But sometimes, when your passion becomes your job, it takes a bit of the magic away.

Unless you’re Joe. He “dances” to the beat of a different drummer.

I’ve met professional artists and told them how envious I was that they can get up each day and paint for a living. What I learned is that their joy of painting was diminished a bit by the business side of art.

The art openings, picky collectors, on-line marketing, advertising, demanding galleries. Like it or not, business and commerce are part of the art world. A lot of artists don’t enjoy that part of the job. It made me realize that, by having a day job in law enforcement, I’m free to create whatever artwork I like. No pressure. No deadlines. Total artistic control.

Arthur has a gallery show in two days and isn’t ready.

Finding a career that interests you will round you out and help you grow in ways you hadn’t considered. For example, my law enforcement career taught me volumes about human nature, leadership, courage, loss, efficiency and more.

The skills I garnered from my police career have made me a more well rounded, confident and capable person. They have also helped me become a better artist, because I’m more disciplined, observant and patient now.

To have a better life, find work that interests you. Throw yourself into it. If you want to stand out, do a bit more than everyone else. Anticipate the needs of your boss. Show up early and leave later than others.

Don’t take short cuts. Most people do and the boss knows who they are. Be ethical and avoid gossip. Don’t point out the shortcomings of others to make yourself look better.

If someone else gets promoted over you, shake his/her hand and be supportive. Go to his/her promotion party. Why? Because people notice what you do when you fail more than when you succeed.

Failing with grace says a lot about your character. Don’t whine or snivel. Above all, don’t do anything illegal or immoral. Without your character and integrity, you’ll be an unhappy person.

All work has elements of drudgery and repetitiveness. In time, if you find the work no longer fulfilling, explore options. You might have to do some retraining.

The point is, skill sets like organization, follow through, professionalism and interpersonal fluency transfer to many different disciplines.

Maybe you won’t get to be an astronaut or football star. But you just might find that the work you’re in is fulfilling, pays the mortgage and allows for a comfortable and happy family life.

There will still be plenty of time to write that great American novel or become a master gardener. Lots of folks transition into other careers with proper planning and effort. Others retire and then dive into their passions more fully. Only you can decide which path to take.

Know this too: Work regulates us. As much as we dislike having to get up in the morning, work life engages our minds and helps us grow. It’s likely that you will have several different positions in your professional life. New opportunities will come along to challenge you.

In the end, find something that interests you and go for it. It’s an amazing ride and can lead to unexpected, positive outcomes and personal growth.

6. Passion

There are some things we enjoy doing so much that when we’re immersed in them, we lose all track of time. For me, when I’m painting outdoors I am hopelessly absorbed. I forget to eat and take breaks. That’s because painting is a passion. Same with my cartooning and writing. I get lost in it. I’ll do it whether it makes me money or not.

Me painting in Canada.

Most people have passions, be it the arts, sports, exercise or helping others. If you want to live a better life, nurture your passions(s). You have to make time for the things you love. We live in a busy age and there are many people anxious to spend your time for you. Resist this by blocking out time for yourself and your passions.

People will ask of your time. If you want to live a better life, take your calendar and block out recurring dates and times for your passions.

Maybe it’s every Saturday morning, or every Wednesday night. My wife and I block out Thursday nights for our “date nights.” We prioritize time to reconnect after a busy week.

The point is, put yourself first. Sure, there may be the occasional event you should attend. For example, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani once wrote:

“Weddings are optional but funerals are mandatory.”

His point was that some things will come along that you’ll have to make time for. But on balance, folks will learn when you’re not available and work around it.

Another important lesson about making time for your passions is the art of saying no. If you want to live a better life, get comfortable with saying “No.”

What I tell people (nicely) who invite me to play golf.

Yes, I hate disappointing people, too. But you get tired of always putting yourself second. It’s not selfish to invest time in yourself and your passions. In fact, a certain amount of down time is absolutely vital to living a more productive, effective, balanced and happy life. The trick is to do it nicely.

Thank people for asking or inviting you. Tell them you’re sorry you’re unable to accommodate them. If you can help them out on a different day, offer. The bottom line is that time is finite and saying “no” frees you up to pursue what you’re passionate about. The same principle applies to those of you who keep over committing to things. Learn to say “no” now and then.

If you want to have a better life, don’t neglect your passions. If you do, you’ll be resentful and bitter about it later.

7. Faith / Life Philosophy

Sooner or later most of us start asking big questions. Why are we here. What’s the point to all this running around. Working, raising kids, trying to stay in shape.

Sooner or later, the indignities of life will alight on our shoulders. Illness, pain, loss. My father used to joke and say, “We’re all born terminal. No one gets out of this game alive.”

We don’t think much about our mortality when we are young. Heck, why would we? Our bodies are fresh and youthful. The world is our oyster. We’re busy getting educated and enjoying life’s milestones, like the day we can drive or vote. Or the day we get married and land the first big job. The birth of our children. There’s so much to look forward to.

I read about a woman who said she clearly remembers the day it hit her. That she was officially “old.” She was walking down a city street when three young men walked past her. They looked right through her.

She had been a handsome woman in her day. But now she was… invisible. She also noticed that people talked to her differently. Almost child like. Things like, “How are you, dear?” and “Are we having a nice day today?” She may have been old, but she certainly was not a child.

How do we face the loss of our youthfulness and a sense of irrelevancy? Or personal tragedies like the loss of a spouse or child? We think it will never happen to us. I have knocked on people’s doors to deliver life changing, bad news. In a moment your whole world can change.

How do we equip ourselves for life’s biggest challenges? If you want to live a better life, it helps to believe in something bigger than yourself.

For many, great peace is found in living a faith tradition. The lessons of ancient wisdom, such as the Bible, can offer a reliable template on how to live your life.

For others, the natural order of life and teachings of the great philosophers provide an intelligent path with which to approach daily living.

If you want to live a better life, open your eyes, mind and heart to the immense beauty around us. Listen to the breeze as it rolls through the trees. Hear the rhythmic crash of ocean waves, and the song of crickets in the evening. Your child’s laughter, or the chorus of small birds as they celebrate the dawn of a new day.

For me, I have always felt such things are hints of the divine. English philosopher/writer Roger Scruton explores this in his book “The Soul of the World,” in which he argues:

“To be fully alive, and to understand what we are, is to acknowledge the reality of sacred things.”

For others, there is the solidity of science and the reassuring presence of an ever expanding universe, with all its mystery and majesty.

Whatever it is, a faith tradition or celebration of the great philosophies and science, it’s important to believe in something greater than yourself. Having such a broad view of life can sustain you in times of grief, doubt and pain.

If you’re not sure what exactly to hang your hat on, keep digging. Keep reading and thinking. Sooner or later, you’ll unearth the core truths that will help you make sense of this world and our purpose.

I have seen a lot of shattered lives and broken people in my career. All these people were once innocent children. No doubt their parents had big dreams for them. Seeing such brokenness in the world is very sad.

That’s why I wrote and illustrated this article. A small contribution to hopefully help others live a better life. I know I don’t have all the answers, and maybe I’m wrong about some things. Never the less, I believe in you.

I believe people are basically good. If a thirteen-year-old girl named Anne Frank can suffer so much at the hands of the Nazis and still believe in the basic goodness of people, I suppose I can too. Perhaps we all can?

Thanks for reading through this. I hope it will help you live the best life ever. If you know someone who would benefit from this article, please send it to them with my blessings. Life is too short to be unhappy.

Before you go

I’m John P. Weiss. I paint landscapes, draw cartoons and write about life. Thanks for reading!

This article first appeared on Medium.