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Laugh Often...and 19 more...

20 Rules to Live By by Gina Barreca

The Hartford Courant published this in 2014, and apparently the Tampa Bay Times reprinted it, because apparently I cut it out to save (I've never been to Hartford). Of course, I didn't remember saving it until I found it in an old file I was cleaning out. At any rate, consider this a brief intermission as we slowly (and unwillingly?) transition from a long, hot summer into the chaos (and Covid uncertainty?) of fall.

1) Bring your sense of humor with you at all times. If their friends have a sense of humor, invite them, too. Remember this when going to hospitals, weight-loss centers, and funerals, as well as when going to work, coming home, waking up, and going to sleep.

2) If it's worth crying for, it's probably worth laughing at. Cultivate a sense of perspective that permits you to see the wider and longer view of the situation; this will help you realize that although your situation is upsetting, it might also one day become a terrific story.

3) Other people don't care what you're wearing.

4) Don't be a sissy. This is especially important if you are a woman. Girls can be sissies, but behaving like a simpering, whining, fretful coward as an adult is unacceptable no matter what your gender happens to be. If you are anxious, scared, and feeling powerless, you don't need to change your behavior; you need to change your life.

5) Don't lie. Cheat the devil and tell the truth.

6) There is one exception to the rule above: Never say a baby looks like a sausage wearing a hat. The parents will not forgive you. This is a situation in which telling the truth is not wholly necessary. Just say the baby looks "happy."

7) Never use the passive voice. Do not say, "It will get done." Say, "I'll do it," and then offer a solid, unwavering deadline. Always make your deadline.

8) The pinnacle is always slippery; no peak is safe. Only plateaus offer a place to rest. Are you ready to stay on a plateau or are you climbing? Decide and pack your bags accordingly.

9) As we age, love changes. As a youth, you fall for an unattainable ideal. When you're more mature, you fall in love with a person. "Sure, he has only one eye in the middle of his forehead," you'll rationalize, "But he never forgets my birthday."

10) Power is the ability to to persuade stupid people to do intelligent things and intelligent people to do stupid things. This is why power is dangerous.

11) Sherlock Holmes said, "Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson." Listen to Mr. Holmes.

12) Everybody wants a shortcut to love, prosperity, and weight loss, although not necessarily in that order. Apart from being born into an adoring family, getting good genes, and inheriting the mineral rights, however, there are no short cuts. The rest of us have to work for it.

13) Help the dramatically self-pitying to understand they are not, by definition, sympathetic or interesting. Encourage them to address topics other than themselves.

14) Be kind, not nice. Kindness is both intentional and meaningful. Acts of kindness require generosity, emotional and otherwise. Perfunctory and superficial niceness is, too often, mere window-dressing.

15) Only poor workers blame their tools. It's not the fault of the computer, the school, the train, the government, or poor cell phone reception. Take responsibility.

16) You know sometimes you don't think you're asleep -- you're half listening to a conversation or television -- only to discover you were unconscious? One part of your head would swear it's awake, but when you actually snap. out of it, you realize you're wholly elsewhere? Sometimes that happens in life. Sometimes the only way you know you're truly in love, in the entirely wrong profession, being a moron at parties, or a great poet if when you snap out of it.

17) You can always stop what you're doing.

18) You should either be doing something useful or you should be playing. You should not be thinking about playing while at work or thinking about work while you're out having fun. Compartmentalizing your life is not inevitably a bad thing. It's easy to waste pleasure by feeling guilty and waste potentially effective time by feeling resentful.

19) Be aware a safety net, if pulled too tight, easily turns into a noose. Don't trade independence for security without being aware of the consequences.

20) Someday you will die. Until then, you should do everything possible to enjoy life.

Enjoy what's left of summer and prepare for a wonderful fall...Delta variant be damned! And always be kind.

Gina Barreca, an English professor at the University of Connecticut, is a feminist scholar who has written eight books. To learn more about her and her work, please visit

Photo Credit: Country Living magazine, TriStar pictures, Google images. I chose the Steel Magnolias image because many of these "rules" reminded me of them...particularly #1, #2, #4, and #19.


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