Lao Zi, Chinese philosopher/psychologist of the 6th Century BC wrote the first theory of what a healthy personality should be. He set this down in his classic work, Tao Te Ching. According to Lao Zi, the characteristics of healthy personalities can be described, and I have done so here in ten principles.*
One. Go with the Flow. That is, be in harmony with nature and with your environment, including the people in your environment.
Two. Accept What Is. Don’t have hatreds, desires, worries, self-doubts, and the like that gnaw away at you while accomplishing nothing.
Three. Bend and Do Not Break. If someone insults you, move on. Save your fights for the situations that really call for it, and know the difference.
Four. Be Rather Than Do. This could also be written, “Show instead of tell.” Be a good person, don’t show off being a good person.
Five. Want Nothing and You’ll Have Everything. When you reach a state of harmony, you’ll feel completely content with yourself and feel you therefore have everything you need.
Six. Don’t Stand Too Tall or You’ll Fall. This is the equivalent of the Biblical saying, “Pride goeth before destruction.”
Seven. Don’t Be Too Grand or You’ll Soon Be Bland. Healthy people don’t try to stand out or brag about themselves. They do good for the sake of doing good.
Eight. Don’t Flaunt Your Skill Lest it Becomes Fleeting. Don’t be a show-off or braggart, for this will cause others to resent you and lead to unnecessary stress.
Nine. The Need to Be Right is a Sickness of the Mind. If you need to be always right, you will not be open to all possibilities, and that will delimit your existence.
Ten. Don’t Try to Change the World, Change Yourself. Change yourself so that you can learn to change what needs to be changed (and know the difference) without becoming undone by your need to change it.
Since the time of Lao Zi much research has been done in psychology by various experimenters who have more or less affirmed Lao Zi’s principles. Research has shown that those who live the longest and most contented lives are generally those who live lives that are relatively stress-free. They live in rural areas and live simple lives. All of Lao Zi’s principles are designed to facilitate such a stress-free life. Research has also shown that how much stress we have in our lives and how we deal with it determines how healthy our personalities are and whether or not we are in harmony with our environment.
The bottom line of Lao Zi’s philosophy and of modern research is to eliminate stress and strife from your life. But this is easier said than done. We are all raised to have certain values and to have certain strong ideas about the way things should be done and our own roles in how to do them. We are brought up with healthy and unhealthy coping methods.
An individual may be brought up to believe in a certain religion. His sect of that religion believes in changing the world so that it fits into its belief system. Therefore the individual will be in constant stress about changing the world. To suggest to such a believer that not everyone needs to believe the same way he believes can be a daunting task.
An individual may be brought up to believe that he will never be successful no matter how much he tries, so he will never try. Yet he will constantly bemoan his fate and compare himself with others who are trying and succeeding, and be envious of them. Hence he will engage in destructive habits such as drinking or smoking or gambling to bail himself out. Trying to tell such a person he doesn’t need to be this way may be next to impossible.
An individual may be brought up to believe that he or she is entitled to have the best in life, and anybody who stands in his or her way must be pushed aside. Such a person may be contented with pushing others aside and may develop high pride; but at some point this pride will lead too far. Is it possible to warn such a person?
Becoming a healthy personality involves knowing yourself, and knowing yourself is perhaps the hardest thing for a person to do. This is why we have psychotherapy. Psychotherapy helps people to become healthy personalities. As Lao Zi put it, “To do is to be.”
*The 10 principles are taken from the author’s book, The Way According to Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and Seng Tsan.