8 Cheat Codes for Life

by Jake Giessman   |   June 14, 2012

Screen Shot 2012 06 14 At 4 22 57  Pm

If the symbols to the left mean anything to you, then you’ve heard of “cheat codes”: digital shortcuts that enable video gamers to access goodies they would normally have to play long hours to earn, like extra lives, secret powers, and silly outfits for their avatars.

It may seem strange that young people who are willing to spend 10,000 hours gaming online before the age of 21 would even bother with shortcuts—but they do. In fact, the most famous cheat code has been built into more than 100 games since 1985 and even makes cameos in non-gaming environments like Newsweek.com.

The desire for shortcuts is part of being human. As a teacher, I see young people every day looking for the cheat codes to real life. They want to know which club will get them into the best college, which college will get them the best career, and which career will give them the most money for the least pain. They want to know which shirt will get them a girlfriend and which chapters they can blow off while studying for a test.

The real cheat codes to life, though, are simpler and more powerful. 

Here are eight that I recently shared with my students on a retreat. Share them with someone young in your life and see if you can add any to the list.

1.   Embrace People

I don't mean run around hugging everyone, although that might be good, too. Chris McCandless went “into the wild” to escape the cruelty and hypocrisy of other people. A moment with Tolstoy, although too late, made him realize that being with and caring for other people is required for happiness.

2.   Forgive Easily

The Mayo Clinic notes the physiological and psychological benefits of burying the hatchet or not even taking it up in the first place. Grudges weigh you down. An automatic reflex to forgive people their trespasses will keep your mind and heart clear.

3.   Be Positive

Cynicism and sarcasm are the native tongue of many youth, but psychologists have determined that a half-full worldview makes you more resilient in the face of adversity. Surrounding yourself with positive people helps, too.

4.   Live Within Your Means

That fancy couch, car, or condo will not increase your happiness if you have to skimp on groceries or lock into a career you dislike to make your payments. Look at it this way: If financial wealth means having more money than you spend, then spending less than you in fact have is the quickest way to get rich.

5.   Give

Evolution may have hardwired us to look out for our own self-interest or that of our family, but it has also hardwired us to work together for the survival of the larger group and its environment. Michael Norton is just one scientist who has shown that giving can make us happier than getting.

6.   Do Something

Your parents may have told you how brilliant and beautiful you are, but the real way to feel good about yourself is to work hard at something you are interested in until you have a tangible result. Even better is when the result helps others or helps the world.

7.   Go Outside

Not getting outside is giving our younger generations what one thinker calls “nature deficit disorder.” From a head-cooling walk around the block to a three-day hike to get your life priorities straight, from noticing a bird in your yard to watching a plant change across the seasons, getting out into the real world makes a huge difference.

8.   Sleep

Perhaps the strongest cheat code in life is one that many high-achievers pride themselves on neglecting. Researchers suggest that, for students, getting enough sleep has a bigger impact on achievement and well-being than any educational intervention or prescription drug.

Okay, so none of these cheats can change your eye color to neon green or give you a solar-powered radial pulse gun, but they will lead you toward a happier, more productive life. And while they are common sense, they are so frequently ignored that they function like well-kept secrets. Let’s make sure they are not a secret to the young people in our families and communities.

Jake Giessman is a teacher in Columbia, Missouri, and a guest blogger for New Dream.