Most articles about making one’s life happier and healthier follow a fairly predictable track: lose weight, sleep, exercise, and eat well. Others focus on the importance of cultivating relationships, hobbies, and pets. A few are more directly prescriptive, suggesting specific books to read, yoga poses to practice, or destinations to visit.
I have a somewhat different perspective on how to avoid a host of deathbed regrets, and I share my one simple suggestion because I believe it is a path to health and happiness that works far better than a plate of raw vegetables or whittling—although each may have their places in the lives of many.
Here it is: Insist upon being treated with respect.
There is nothing that more quickly curdles the soul than to be treated with discourtesy. Sometimes we simply have to bear some level of rudeness from strangers because a confrontation would likely be pointless, but we should demand better from family, friends, and colleagues. I am not advocating that we should all live our lives with our fists up and chins out, but we need not be anyone’s punching bag either—whether this is simply metaphorical or an sad fact.
Too often we grind our teeth at night because of the cutting comment, the thoughtless disregard, or nasty neglect of others. We also frequently respond by retreating and blaming ourselves for somehow “provoking” the other person. In some small subset of circumstances we are perhaps receiving exactly what we deserve because of our own behavior, but in the vast majority of cases we are bearing the brunt of someone else’s insecurity, anger, or disappointment—and we are simply the convenient targets that allow someone else to feel better about their own shortcomings.
To allow yourself to be routinely treated in this manner is to set in motion a cascade of catastrophes that likely will cause your life to be (my apologies to Thomas Hobbes) nasty, brutish, and short because the physical and emotional stresses of being subjected to disrespect will simply eat you alive. Insisting on that which is our due from those around you will likely cause its own stresses in the short term because you will be accused of being difficult or confrontational, but this is the response of bullies—not of those who care about you.
I also believe that demanding respect from those around you will provide the sense of self-esteem that will motivate you to begin to engage in the many positive behaviors that are the staple prescriptions of self-help articles. You will find it easier to lose that weight, sleep peacefully at night, exercise regularly, and avoid that box of doughnuts because you will learn the most important precursor to a happy and healthy life—you are worth it. Change for the better is nearly impossible when we are filled with self-loathing because we allow others to walk all over us, but it becomes a real possibility when we walk tall instead of slinking through life.