8 Cheat Codes for Life

If the symbols to the left mean anything to you, then you’ve heard of “cheat codes”: digital shortcuts that enable video gamers to access goodies they would normally have to play long hours to earn, like extra lives, secret powers, and silly outfits for their avatars.

It may seem strange that young people who are willing to spend 10,000 hours gaming online before the age of 21 would even bother with shortcuts—but they do. In fact, the most famous cheat code has been built into more than 100 games since 1985 and even makes cameos in non-gaming environments like

The desire for shortcuts is part of being human. As a teacher, I see young people every day looking for the cheat codes to real life. They want to know which club will get them into the best college, which college will get them the best career, and which career will give them the most money for the least pain. They want to know which shirt will get them a girlfriend and which chapters they can blow off while studying for a test.

The real cheat codes to life, though, are simpler and more powerful. Here are eight that I recently shared with my students on a retreat. Share them with someone young in your life and see if you can add any to the list.

  1. EMBRACE PEOPLE. I don't mean run around hugging everyone, although that might be good, too. Chris McCandless went “into the wild” to escape the cruelty and hypocrisy of other people. A moment with Tolstoy, although too late, made him realize that being with and caring for other people is required for happiness.

  2. FORGIVE EASILY. The Mayo Clinic notes the physiological and psychological benefits of burying the hatchet or not even taking it up in the first place. Grudges weigh you down. An automatic reflex to forgive people their trespasses will keep your mind and heart clear.

  3. BE POSITIVE. Cynicism and sarcasm are the native tongue of many youth, but psychologists have determined that a half-full worldview makes you more resilient in the face of adversity. Surrounding yourself with positive people helps, too.

  4. LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS. That fancy couch, car, or condo will not increase your happiness if you have to skimp on groceries or lock into a career you dislike to make your payments. Look at it this way: If financial wealth means having more money than you spend, then spending less than you in fact have is the quickest way to get rich.

  5. GIVE. Evolution may have hardwired us to look out for our own self-interest or that of our family, but it has also hardwired us to work together for the survival of the larger group and its environment. Michael Norton is just one scientist who has shown that giving can make us happier than getting.

  6. DO SOMETHING. Your parents may have told you how brilliant and beautiful you are, but the real way to feel good about yourself is to work hard at something you are interested in until you have a tangible result. Even better is when the result helps others or helps the world.

  7. GO OUTSIDE. Not getting outside is giving our younger generations what one thinker calls “nature deficit disorder.” From a head-cooling walk around the block to a three-day hike to get your life priorities straight, from noticing a bird in your yard to watching a plant change across the seasons, getting out into the real world makes a huge difference.

  8. SLEEP. Perhaps the strongest cheat code in life is one that many high-achievers pride themselves on neglecting. Researchers suggest that, for students, getting enough sleep has a bigger impact on achievement and well-being than any educational intervention or prescription drug.

Okay, so none of these cheats can change your eye color to neon green or give you a solar-powered radial pulse gun, but they will lead you toward a happier, more productive life. And while they are common sense, they are so frequently ignored that they function like well-kept secrets. Let’s make sure they are not a secret to the young people in our families and communities.

Jake Giessman is a teacher in Columbia, Missouri, and a guest blogger for the Center for a New American Dream.

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Soo…. no serious cheat codes? That’s depressing..

Posted by alexander at April 5, 2013 at 12:09pm

what this will only cause people to use you

Posted by Bill at February 27, 2013 at 11:16am

this is good stuff. as heather said, it is good to be reminded. I especially love the simple code, be positive. I’ve hears this countless times, but not with this explanation . I like knowing that psychologists have found that positive thinking really makes you stronger against adversity. as a member of generation x, sarcasm is my go-to tactic. Thank you for sharing; now i don’t have to feel like a goody-goody for looking at the bright side. now i know that positivity breeds strength. however, the sarcasm has been passed down to my preteen daughter, but I’m POSITIVE that i can help her to start seeing the silver lining. :)

Posted by Gloria at January 22, 2013 at 1:12am

This is mostly bogus. The problem with cheat codes is that you have to cheat, which means you’re wiling to corrupt the game from the beginning.

Embracing people is fine as long as it is genuine. Embracing them as a means to an end is wrong, even if that end is your own happiness.

The problem with people today is that they don’t know what’s going on, thus it is imposible for them to have a sense of justice. Justice requires holding the guilty accountable. You can forgive yourself for mistakes, if you are truly contrite, only you can know. But letting yourself and others off the hook for their trespasses is a recipe for disaster, it’s how we got into this mess.

Being “Positive” is fine when things are going well, but un-realistic optimism is means of manipulation, of yourself and others. In sports it works because we wouldn’t try the ‘impossible’ without fooling ourselves into the belief that it is possible. But life is not a game, there are real consequences for failure, like death, and murder. Try being a realist. The optimist says the glass is half-full, the pessimist says half-empty, the realist sees the glass is broken on the floor and goes and gets a broom and a sponge to salvage what’s left.

Living within your means is fine, if you have means, most people in the world today don’t. They survive day to day, without the capacity to save, and there are no safe investments. One should work well not hard, and spend time wisely, invest in yourself, your education, your life and family, but never put off to tomorrow what you could do today, tomorrow may not come. Carpe Diem.

Giving is fine (see above paragraph), but one should never give away money. Giving is about investing yourself, give only your time. If you want to be happy, evolution says give only to your family, but that pat leads to war. I say be selfish, give yourself only to those things that make you happy, and only value your offspring unconditionally, your parents only if they value you.

Think before you ‘Do Something’. There are no “Cheats” in the real world, everything must be earned. Be prepared. Be unafraid to fail, but don’t do things you would regret.

Going outside and getting enough sleep are both smart choices. Unfortunately, the urban (and sub-urban) world is set up against these choices. Sleep is the key to improving your mind, and exercise is the key to health, living outside teaches you about nature and builds character based on real values. If you live inside, and ignore nature, you will undervalue the environment and allow it to be destroyed. Sleep inside, live outside.

Incase you missed it, THERE ARE NO CHEATS IN REAL LIFE.

Posted by Micahel Russell at June 23, 2012 at 1:31am

The cheat codes are only for the upper class. Middle class need not apply.

Posted by BrianG at June 22, 2012 at 6:06pm

Thanks for posting this and noting it in the newsletter; they are great reminders of what to focus on.

I believe I understand the sentiment of #3 to strive for a positive perspective, but I perceive “half-full” and “half-empty” to be the same thing, they’re just half. Why not look for the real fullness? This list can certainly help us to be ready for such enriching fullness available.

Speaking of shortcuts and cheat-codes, I remember Stephen Covey asking students how many of them crammed for their tests. I did at times, and I am sure many of his audience members could also attest to it. He then asked if it’s possible to cram on a farm, explaining that in the natural world of farming and growing crops, there is a persistent, patient order of work to bring about good results. We may sometimes try to cram or find shortcuts, but it doesn’t bring out the best in us in the long run.

Posted by Jay at June 22, 2012 at 3:48pm

Your students are lucky to have such an insightful teacher. Thank you for sharing these “cheat codes” with them. Let’s hope some of your students take you up on the challenge instead of waiting until their 40’s (or never) to get a clue.

Posted by Sharon at June 22, 2012 at 1:56pm

These are valid goals throughout a lifetime, not just for youth. Many of
us need reminding!

Posted by Heather at June 22, 2012 at 11:11am


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