Everybody has one.
Men and women have one. Children and adults have one too.
Every American has one, Asians and Africans too. Every person in Europe and all those Down Under have one just like every other human being on planet earth.
Atheists have one. Agnostics do too. The person who has never darkened the door of a church, synagogue, or mosque has one.
Muslims and Methodists, Buddhists and Baptists, Christians and Krishnas, Jews and Jehovah Witnesses, they all have one. New Agers, Scientologists, Wiccans, and Satanists have one too. Nuns, priests, pastors, rabbis, and missionaries have one. So do serial killers, pedophiles, addicts, and prostitutes.
Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Conservatives, Liberals, Progressives, and Socialists have one. Anarchists too.
There isn’t a human being that doesn’t have one. Including you. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs or your religious experience, you have one too.
Like every other human being on planet earth, you have a “code” - some kind of moral and ethical foundation upon which you live your life every day. I’m not here to debate either the substance or the merit of one code over another. All I want to do is establish for the rest of our discussion that we all have some kind of internal constitution upon which we govern ourselves.
For the sake of our conversation, let’s give it a name. Let’s call it your “Noble Code.” Your Noble Code is the collection of beliefs that constitute the moral and ethical grid-work upon which you make the choices that determine how you live your life.
Making calculations in seemingly indiscernible increments of time – millionths of a second - the microprocessors of your mind continually synchronize billions of bits of moral data that determine every action of your life. Every choice. Every motive. Every intention. Every word. Every inclination. Every emotion. Every interest. Every courtesy. Every posture. Every desire. Every resolve.
If there is some moral or ethical nuance to what you are doing at the moment – and there always is - your Noble Code is at work. From what you choose to watch on television late at night while trying to fall asleep, to what you report on your taxes as charitable donations. From how you respond to your spouse when they have made you angry, to what you decide to do in the moment you have dented the door of the car next to you when nobody else was around to see it. The decisions you make in moments like these are the work of your Noble Code.
Everything we do in our life is driven by some moral or ethical impulse sourced in our Noble Code. Even if you don’t have a clue as to what exactly defines your Noble Code, it still influences your every move.
Your Noble Code is the product of a lifetime of inputs, experiences, people, and thoughts that have contributed to your value system.
The influences which have shaped our Noble Code are numerous; some significant, others trivial. Our family of origin (dad, mom, siblings, grandparents) shapes our Code. Things we learn from admired professors in college mold our Code. Books we’ve read, mentors we respect, and cherished friends we trust educate our Code. Our faith of choice has a profound influence on our Code. Sometimes, “something we heard somebody say one time” or a “strange thing happened when I was a kid” holds enormous sway over what we believe about right or wrong, good or bad, important or trivial.
Many people place their trust in a particular influence to establish important aspects of their Noble Code. Mormons have the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. Muslims have the Koran. Christians have the Bible. Scientologists have the works of L. Ron Hubbard. Buddhists look to multiple sources of wisdom from the human experience. Humanists and secularists - all of them - have a favorite author, body of research or library of literature that inform their Code. For others, their influences range anywhere from Oprah to Dr. Phil, from the Pope to CNN, from TED Talks to the voices they hear inside their heads.
My point here is not to debate the credibility or sufficiency of any of these sources, but to acknowledge the spectrum of influences that inform the moral and ethical grid-work through which we process our life.
We speak of these things when we say:
· “My dad used to always say….”
· “Well, in the family I grew up in you were never allowed to…”
· “I remember my mom would…”
· “I had this incredible professor in college who taught….”
· “I read in the Bible….”
· “This one researcher who I really respect has shown that….”
· “One of the thing I’ve always admired about my best friend is...”
· “I stumbled upon this quote the other day.”
· “The Koran teaches….”
· “I don’t care what the law says, I think…”
· “I have always felt like....”
· “I will never be able to forget that day when…”
· “I watched my grandparents...”
· “I don’t know why, but it just never really sits well with me when I see...”
The Key to a Happier You
Your Noble Code is an integral part of every minute of your life!
And why is that important to know?
(Pay attention here. This next part is crucial.)
Our happiness is ultimately the product of our Noble Code.
Because of its enormous influence on everything that happens in our life, our Noble Code creates expectations and desires while at the same time influencing our reactions and responses to life as it unfolds in front of us.
You are happy to the extent your life is working in harmony with your Noble Code.
· If your Noble Code operates on the belief there is a direct correlation between the amount of money you have and the happiness you enjoy, you set yourself up for diverging emotions. On payday you are giddy with a fresh supply of dollars at your disposal. Come about the twentieth of the month, you are resentful and stressed about how you’re going to cover your expenses until the first of the next month.
· If we value sexual intimacy as a powerful way to connect with our partner, our mood is influenced by the frequency of lovemaking. (This is especially challenging when partners have very different sets of expectations about sexual intimacy.) Couples go round and round with arguments, hurt feelings, and days of an awkward distance between them all because their Noble Codes operate on very different principles. For many couples, the pattern is virtually predictable. He’s thoughtful and helpful for a day or two following sex, but distant and moody the longer he waits for another encounter. She’s playful and amorous when her sexual desires seek fulfillment, and then abruptly returns to her driven, self-sufficient intensity when satisfied. And the days, weeks, or months of passive-aggressive tension resumes until their next mutually satisfying sexual experience. Different expectations create different desires resulting in different needs. The proximity of our experience to our expectations determines if we are feeling fulfilled or frustrated.
· If our Noble Code places value on telling the truth, we become angry with others when we find they have lied to us or disappointed in ourselves when we do not honor our own standard. That ethical grid through which we view life insists on truthfulness as a priority in all situations. When it is violated we feel offended, hurt, disappointed, and treated unjustly. It’s hard to feel happy with negative emotions clouding your attitude.
In the same way an automobile’s engine runs best when everything is working properly, our Noble Code grants us peace of mind when we live in harmony with what we believe. In contrast, our inner-tranquility is disturbed when we violate our core commitments.
Think of it this way: our conscience gets annoyed with us when we violate it. We say it like, “Oh, I am so angry with myself for letting that happen.” Our Noble Code insisted on one thing; we did another.
Experience would tell us that personal integrity is the single most important key to how our Noble Code works. The truer we are to our Code in the various situations of our life, the better we feel about ourselves.
The decisions we make in a given moment – based on the supersonic calculations of our Noble Code – leave us feeling good or bad, happy or sad, guilty or satisfied, pleased or disappointed, fulfilled or regretful. This, in turn, has a profound impact on the extent of our happiness.
We say stuff like
· “I feel just awful about what I said to her.”
· “I am so proud of how I reacted when he did that.”
· “I really wish I hadn’t done that.”
· “I couldn’t be happier with my part in how it all turned out.”
· “I still regret I didn’t do more.”
· “I’d give anything to have that moment back.”
This crucial relationship between our Noble Code and our happiness raises a very important question. Is there any way to increase the likelihood of being happy more frequently?
The answer is a resounding yes!
The more consistently we live out our Noble Code, the more likely our inner-compass will point in the direction of positive energy and emotions. When we follow the dictates of our Noble Code, we are rewarded with feelings of peace, satisfaction, and contentment.
It is when we do or say something incompatible with our Code that our conscience accuses us of hypocrisy and wrong. This often always results in negative feelings that rob us of happiness.
We use words like “clear conscience” or “guilty conscience.” When our conscience – that inner moral guide – is free from accusation of hypocrisy, we are at peace with ourselves. When our conscience “bothers us” with accusations that create guilt, fear, or shame, it’s really difficult to feel happy.
Know Your Code
Because our conscience is so responsive to the influence of our Noble Code, it is imperative that we be extremely alert to the inner-workings of the moral compass inside of us.
To do so, we must honor two important priorities.
1. We must KNOW our Noble Code.
Granted, our Noble Code is a complex and intricate web of moral data that will never be completely understood, let alone, fully comprehended. Such a prospect would be like being an expert on every topic contained in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
In spite of how imposing such a prospect might be, we owe it to ourselves – and to others – to define our Noble Code as best we can. We must have, at least, a working knowledge of the most important beliefs which shape our moral compass.
Few people stop long enough to really think through the essential components of their Noble Code. Don’t be one of them.
Try this for starters. Grab a notebook and jot down your answers to the following questions. Give yourself some time to really think this through. We’re talking about something extremely vital to how you live your life here. No sense in rushing through it. I also recommend you give yourself the time to mull over your answers. Don’t worry about getting it all done in a single session or exactly right the first time. Write down your initial thoughts and then come back later to shape, add, or edit your responses.
· What do you say are the five most important character qualities a person should possess?
· What do you think are the five most important values that ought to govern one’s life?
· What are the top five things you’d never do for all the money in the world?
· What are the five most important, non-negotiable “rules” you live by?
· What are the five qualities you want to be most remembered for?
· What five traits do you believe ought to define your behavior regardless of the people you are with or the situation you’re in?
· What five “beliefs” do you deeply hold to regarding other human beings regardless of race or religion?
· What five priorities most influence your thinking about the purpose for life on earth?
These are just a few questions to get you started. There are more, of course, but you’ll probably happen upon them as you mull over your answers to these.
With a working awareness of our Code, the second priority is essential to our happiness.
2. We must OBEY our Noble Code.
While you and I might debate whether one Code is wiser, truer, or better than another, the most important issue is that we consistently honor the Noble Code we adopt. (We’d all do well to spend a little less time judging another person’s Code while spending more time really understanding our own!)
Consistency in obeying our Noble Code is the essence of integrity. Integrity fills our inner-world with a healthy pride, confidence, and peace of mind. Hypocrisy creates just the opposite. When we act in opposition to our Noble Code, we are filled with guilt, shame, embarrassment, and frustration. None of which nurture happiness!
One essential practice for creating peace in your life is to keep the promises you make to yourself. When you determine to live your life dedicated to certain values and beliefs, you are establishing an obligation to yourself. Your conscience latches on to this kind of moral determination and rewards you when you’re consistent to it.
When you break the promises you make to yourself, your conscience is bothered; put out with your hypocrisy or failure. The resulting tension distracts our energies and disturbs our soul. The inner-turmoil created by the violation of our own Code threatens our happiness. You can’t be happy when you’re carrying around the burden of anger, guilt, shame, frustration, discontentment, and defeat.
Think of your inner-world as a garden. The kinds of seeds you plant and the habits you cultivate determine what you harvest. Plant positive, healthy, and upright seeds, then you will reap a harvest of joy. Sow negative, unhealthy, or immoral ones, and you will know a famine of sorrow.
The Road to Happiness Begins Here
So why does any of this even matter?
The failure to understand the inner-workings of your conscience may explain why you find happiness so elusive. If you keep scratching your head over why you aren’t quite as happy as you wish, it may have something to do with what’s going on inside of you more than what is happening around you.
So many people continue to search for happiness by looking outside of themselves. The pursuits of possessions, pleasure, power, privilege, and permissiveness (“I’ll do as I damn well please”) in the hope of “finding what they’re looking for” leaves them empty in spite of their best efforts.
What they’re looking for is peace, joy, contentment, fulfillment, passion, purpose, and significance. None of which is found outside of ourselves. Cars, houses, toys, titles, accomplishments, accolades, trophies, sex, status, and even unbridled freedom to do whatever you want will never ultimately grant you an abiding contentment in life.
Contentment comes from deep down inside of you in a place where the very foundations of your life originate. Some call it your center; others, your soul. Whatever you call it, it’s where the road to happiness begins.
The joy, peace, contentment, and fulfillment we are looking for originates from within us. It is spiritual in nature. I use the word “spiritual” here not in a religious sense, but in a soul-ish sense; in a “your-center” kind of way. Because the “spirit” of our life as human beings is immaterial and intangible, happiness is not found in things, but in thoughts. It is discovered and enjoyed in how you think about life.
This is what we often refer to as “perspective.” At other times, we call it “attitude.” We use phrases like, “It’s all a matter of perspective” or “It’s all about your attitude.” What we mean by them is how we “see” things – how we frame our thoughts about a situation or circumstance. Perspective ultimately determines the feelings we associate with our experiences.
Why does one person finds great peace with even the simplest things of life while another wrestles with disappointment and discontentment in the exact same situation? The answer is perspective.
Perspective is thoughts we attach to what we are doing at any given moment. And that is exactly where our Noble Code comes into play.
Happiness is found deep down inside the human spirit where attitude, motivation, perspective, and values are formed. In other words, down in the Core of your being; where the essential intangibles of life exercise their influence on how we think, feel and see.
And right smack dab in the middle of your Core resides your Noble Code. Right there where all of life begins. Perhaps it’s time to pay more attention to your Noble Code. Your happiness depends on it.