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8 Ancient Laws for Creating a Simpler, Happier Life

8 Ancient Laws for Creating a Simpler, Happier Life

Life can be simple and you can be happy, and these 8 time-proven laws point the way.

According to Confucius, “life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” 

The statement that life is really simple might seem a bit absurd to you.

What’s so simple about the myriad demands, dilemmas, and dealings of everyday life that push and pull on our consciences, wills, and intentions?

What’s so simple about love and hate, success and failure, selfishness and selflessness?

Many times, life can appear overwhelmingly complex, and even downright abusive.

There’s another way of looking at things, though.

The most terrifying fact about life is not that it’s hostile, but that it’s indifferent. If life seems complex, it’s because we’re making it complex.

Well, if we have the power to make it complex, then we also have the power to make it simple. That’s what this article is about.

I’ve always been a sucker for simplicity. I like as much black and white in my life as possible and avoid as many shades of gray as I can. I like to be able to make decisions quickly and with certainty, and that requires simple, clear-cut standards.

I want to share with you 8 laws of living that go back thousands of years, and which have served me well.

If any of these laws resonate with you, give them a try and I think you’ll find they bring you closer to realizing your dreams, creating deep, meaningful relationships with others, and stripping life down to its joyous essence.

Law #1 for Simpler, Happier Living:

If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you say you won’t, don’t.

Without your word, you’re of little value to yourself and others. The fastest way to lose a friend is to show you can’t be trusted, and that applies to yourself, too.

When you know that your word must be kept, even when it’s tough, it forces you to carefully consider your commitments.

Get into the habit of keeping your word once given, no matter what, and you will not only earn the respect of others, but more importantly, you will earn your own respect.

Law #2 for Simpler, Happier Living:

Don’t lie, exaggerate, withhold vital information, or mislead others.

Being honest just makes life easier to live.

Lies beget more lies and must be continually protected from collisions with reality. Statements of fact, however, require no further work on our part.

By lying, you’re not only building a false world that must be guarded from inspection or introspection, you’re showing how little you trust and respect others. 

It disengages you from life, and when it gets bad, you begin to lose touch of what’s even real anymore. Don’t do it.

Law #3 for Simpler, Happier Living:

Be on time. Always.

Technically this is a subset of law #1, but I think it’s important enough to be called out on its own.

Being on time is a basic courtesy with friends and family, but a vital necessity in business and work.

By showing up just five minutes late to an appointment, you can be perceived as disrespectful, disorganized, and disinterested. By showing up five minutes early, the complete opposite impression is made.

The temporal difference is a mere ten minutes, but the real-world ramifications can be quite far reaching.

Law #4 for Simpler, Happier Living:

Out-work everyone you know until you’ve made it. Then you can loaf, if you want.

If you haven’t accomplished your career and/or financial goals yet and you’re not working more than anyone you know to get there, you’re doing it wrong.

This law isn’t set in stone for me, it’s cast in titanium. Some people think it’s a shame. All that work and no play…what a miserable existence!

Well, what will things look like in a few years? I’ll have the financial freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, and they’ll still be griping about their crappy jobs and trying to enjoy their brief respites.

Life doesn’t have to be all hard work, and it’s certainly not all about money, but life sucks without either. 

Law #5 for Simpler, Happier Living:

Do the right thing, even when it costs you something.

You don’t need to read dusty tomes to know what’s right and wrong.

We’re hardwired with an incredibly sensitive moral compass, but unfortunately, we also have an equally intricate justifier mechanism for immoral behavior.

Lapses are permitted as nobody is perfect, but generally acting with integrity ripples out into the world and back into our lives in a million more ways than we could hope to envision.

Indian religion calls it karma. We know it as “what goes around comes around.”

It’s a law of life, and it either works for or against you. And life is much better when it’s on your side.

Law #6 for Simpler, Happier Living:

Always make time for personal growth.

“Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation, and even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind,” wrote Leonardo da Vinci. 

Today’s culture makes it all too easy to go into a mental coma. Every time I turn around there’s another mindless reality TV show, video game, movie, or book blowing up. I swear if it were to all disappear tomorrow the streets would be filled with zombie-like husks of people, stumbling around, unsure of what to do or where to go.

It’s incredibly important to continue to grow as a person. You need to block out time for it every day, and if you’re about to say you don’t have time, please reconsider.

Quit watching TV, delete your Facebook and Pinterest accounts, and burn your copy of 50 Shades of Gray, and I think your calendar will suddenly open up a bit.

What to do instead, you ask?

Anything that involves learning is fair game.

Would you like to speak another language? Perfect. Start. How about playing an instrument? Awesome. Do it. Hell, even starting in on that pile of self-help books you’ve been meaning to read qualifies. Just go.

Law #7 for Simpler, Happier Living:

Never have debt. Ever.

I’ve had debt. I know how much it sucks to feel like a slave to the banks, to feel the pangs of guilt when you make a minimum payment because you bought a few non-essential things that month.

I no longer have any debt, and no amount of fancy junk bought on credit is more valuable than the peace of mind of knowing that you don’t owe a penny to anyone. 

And before you scoff at me thinking, “Yeah, that’s easy to say when you’ve made a bunch of money,” let me interject that I slammed this in before making any real money. My wife and I carefully lived below our means. No exorbitant rent or mortgage, no leased Hummer, no trips to Europe courtesy of JP Morgan Chase at 25% APR.

Furthermore, once you’re making money, it becomes even easier to sink into debt.

All of a sudden you can have hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card room. The bank is practically begging you to take out another mortgage, and while you’re at it, why not finance that boat or $100,000 sports car that you want? Just sign here and it can all be yours.

I deal with money very simply. I buy things cash. If I don’t have the cash, I don’t get the thing. It works.

Law #8 for Simpler, Happier Living:

Build up an emergency fund of a year’s worth of expenses.

This ties into the last law. To use a nerdy Harry Potter analogy, whereas debt is the dementor of personal finances, a lack of savings the boggart.

When you peer into an empty bank account, it can give rise to many gruesome visions. When you’re a paycheck away from broke, it’s all to easy to picture yourself with no home, no food, and no hope.

Don’t put yourself in that situation.

Live below your means so you can save up at least a year’s worth of expenses, and don’t touch that money unless you absolutely  have to. 

You might be amazed at how it changes your outlook on life and work. It’ll probably lower your blood pressure, too.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a Simple, Happy Life for Me

Einstein said that you don’t really understand something until you can explain it to a six year-old. 

I like to think that applies to life, too. Living a good life is simpler than most people think. Give these laws a try and you might agree.


What do you think of these laws for simple, happy living? Have anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • J Tan

    Hey Mike, a bit different to your usual articles, but definitely one I enjoyed living. I recently wrote out my core values and a bit surprisingly found “simplicity” to be one of the values I desired most. This article definitely shows my how important leading a simple life can be and want to thank you for taking a risk and sharing something different!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks man! I’m glad you liked it!

  • Ryan Parker

    Loved it Mike. Great job.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Ryan!

  • Jenny Leadem

    Love it. I’ve got them all down except for the last two. But I’m working on them let me tell ya. I completely agree that being happy is a simple decision, no hoops to jump through. I want to be in a good mood today so I will be.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jenny! Hehe nice on the last 2. I had to learn those lessons the hard way (racked up a bunch of debt, never saved money).

  • Nico Strobl

    More of this please 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Yessir! 🙂

  • Ali

    Brilliant Mike. You continue to amaze and inspire me with your great work. I’m going to read this article every night before bed until I get them all soaked 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much Ali!

  • Nate

    On the debt (#7) and saving (#8) topics, here is everything anyone will ever need to know about personal finance and getting out of debt.



    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Nate!

  • Mike

    All great advice. Its pretty easy to do well if you are willing to consistently follow through. Anything worthwhile takes time and effort. Life tastes so much sweeter when you get or are getting where you want to go and its much easier to maintain. Live your dreams while helping others. I would also add don’t complain to the list. Also, doing anything you can to get more time back for you to focus on what you enjoy. We recently sold our house as we didn’t enjoy caring for it..it was a constant negative in our days. So glad we did, things like that make a world of difference. Also would add to routinely keep a mental note of the company you keep. You end up a lot more like your close friends than you may realize. Look for people who support a healthy you and build a friendship. This can be a great positive in your life, hence me coming here to the site

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Mike!

      I like your additions and I totally agree. The company you keep is particularly huge.

  • Bugbear

    This is all true. I had a decent job and I had no motivation to change even though it wasn’t the life I REALLY wanted. I was comfortable enough to kill my motivation. The company I worked for went under and I went from a high end technical job with great benefits to no job and no benefits with a pregnant wife.

    Instead of feeling sorry for myself or looking for handouts I got the only job I could find which was waiting tables and I worked insane hours to keep food on the table. I was so unhappy that it gave me the motivation I needed to start my own business. I worked like a dog sometimes till 2-3 in the morning getting the business going in a self-storage locker which is all I could afford.

    I listened to Tony Robbins a lot and one of the steps was writing down goals. One of mine was to pay cash for a Hummer because I always wanted one. It was a five year goal and I did it in 3. I now have three businesses that gross over 5 million a year. I don’t really have to work but now I enjoy it.

    Work hard now, make sacrifices, keep your head down and drive forward. Don’t look for handouts. Don’t make excuses. Always take responsibility and you will get where you want to go. Too many people play the victim and that will get you nowhere.

    Good article Mike.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for sharing, and wow, great job on what you’ve accomplished! That rocks man.

      I totally agree on your last points. Keep up the good work.

    • Quentin

      That’s amazing!

      • Bugbear

        Thanks Quentin! It’s all absolutely true and anyone can do the same thing if they are willing to work hard and with purpose.

  • A.

    Hey Mike! I always read your articles and a “felt” we shared some values when I was reading your book. That said, for me, this is your best article.
    Why? Because I see fitness as a way to improve myself, to be better today than I was yesterday, but our bodies are just one piece in the puzzle. And those tips were just what I was needing right now.
    Thank you! Keep up the good work!
    Regards from Brazil!!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks man! I really appreciate it, and I totally agree that physical fitness is just one part of creating a great life for ourselves. More like this to come!

  • Dar

    Never have debt and save a years money incase of emergencies seems hard

    • Michael Matthews

      It takes discipline, but once you get into the groove, it becomes very easy.

  • Esther

    Great article! You have a good head on top of that great body.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! 😉

  • Quentin

    This is one excellent article Mike. And I enjoyed your video podcast where you talked about it further. It’s certainly food for thought.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks a lot!

  • Dennis Fallo

    Sounds good Mike! Far to often, people are their own worst enemies. The mind is free to choose its demons or its guardians….. Patience, Strength, Fortitude.

    • Michael Matthews

      I agree!

  • These laws are SO TRUE! It’s time we all got away from the sense of entitlement which is pervasive in this country and started thinking about how we can help ourselves by helping others.

    • Michael Matthews

      I agree!

  • banach

    Mike, I have followed much of your fitness advice, and it makes a lot of sense. However, this article I have some issues with.

    1) Never have debt. This does not make economic sense. Debt is a cornerstone of capitalist society, the creation of debt has played an important role in the financing of investment throughout history. Even at a personal level, it is a way to smooth consumption over a life-span. I am a student, and I have debt (both a government fees debt and some consumer debt). This debt has allowed me to complete my doctorate faster — because I was not working. What matters is how much debt and whether you have a capacity to pay it off based on your future expected income.

    2) Out-work everyone else. Can’t the strenuous pursuit of working for the sake of out-doing everyone else only lead to eventual burnout, anxiety and an eventual distraction from your goals? For deep, long-term technical problems, I find an over-focus on productivity to be detrimental to actually doing focused, hard work. Sure you have to work hard during fixed times, but idling about is very important (at least in what I do). The key is striking a subtle balance between productivity and idleness.

    I find it ironic that you used an image of Buddha – the first advocate of non-striving – for this article. I have not read your genius book, but perhaps you address some of these issues there.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment. You bring up good points.

      1. Your student loans are an investment in your future. That’s very different than using credit to buy things you can’t afford and then paying 25-100% the MSRP due to interest.

      I’m all for the former. The latter is foolish.

      2. I agree that people need to find their own balance between work and idleness, but the more downtime you feel you need, the weaker of an individual you are and the less you’re going to accomplish with your life.

      We could argue the merits of “accomplishment” separately, but that’s the black and white of it.

      I know people that wholeheartedly believe they need 6 to 8 hours of downtime every day or they’ll “burn out.” Nah. They’re just lazy and weak willed.

      Personally speaking, I’ve been working 60- to 80-hour weeks for years now and love it. I look forward to every week and find I enjoy my downtime so much more when it’s scarce.

      If I had to, I could work more. And I would if my survival depended on it.

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  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Nara

    “I find it ironic that you used an image of Buddha – the first advocate of non-striving – for this article.”

    Uhh…no, that’s a complete myth. Too much pop Buddhist nonsense in the West. He pretty much said everything Mike said:

    The wise endowed with virtue
    Shine forth like a burning fire,
    Gathering wealth as bees do honey
    And heaping it up like an ant hill.
    Once wealth is accumulated,
    Family and household life may follow.


  • Olivia Meiners

    You have a very sharp mind, it’s no surprise that you’ve achieved some of your big goals and dreams. I’ve been learning a lot of these things over the last couple of years and it’s great to freshen up on them. I’m going to write these down and keep em in front of me often.

    Thank you!

    • Olivia Meiners

      I also wanted to mention that implementing any new habit in the beginning is going to be hard because if you analyze the brain it’s waves will be off the charts, but as the habit is consistently performed over a few weeks, the brain calms down and it becomes easier and easier.

    • I’m glad you liked it, Olivia! And yeah, habits can be very powerful. I’ve written about it here:


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