5 Lessons from the Constitution on Living a Happier, Saner Life

It’s Constitution Day! Who knew the philosophies underpinning the most sacred document in the land could help us govern our personal lives, too?

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231 years ago today, the final draft of the U.S. Constitution was signed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania after a multitude of revisions and cacophonous disagreements. While pundits and politicians continue to commemorate the occasion across social media, we turned to Keith J. Bybee, PhD, a professor of political science at the Maxwell School and vice dean in the College of Law at Syracuse University to help us find the lessons it bears for living a healthier, saner life. Here are five microsteps we can gather from the dusty (but crucial) doc.

1. Meet People Where They Are

The constitution was designed around dark assumptions about human nature — we’re vain, power hungry, selfish, plotting — which is why we have a system of checks and balances between our main branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial) to rein in our self-interest for the greater good. Bybee likens it to yoga: “You show up and they meet you where you are. You don’t have to be able to do a perfect camel pose,” he jokes. “They work with you with what you got and move you along. Much of the constitution works that way.”

2. Power Is Less Corrupting When It Is Shared

All the power in the constitution is divided between the three main branches of government “with the assumption that if people participate in the process,” Bybee says, “they work things out as things move from the house to the senate to the president,” which will ultimately, hopefully, result in good legislation. It works like magic for the breakdown of power in my three-person household!

3. Embrace Conflict

Arduous and contentious conflict went into creating the Constitution, but through those verbal brawls and heated arguments came one of the most influential and sacred documents ever written. “Conflict in community is the gas in the tank that makes the deliberative process go,” says Bybee. “It’s through conflict,” he emphasizes, “that we arrive at a shared understanding of what the public interest is. It shouldn’t be avoided, it should be embraced and relied upon.”

4. We Can’t Succeed Without Community and Coordination

Bybee says to get things done and affect real change, there must be organization and (dissonant) harmonization across all our different institutions of government. “That’s a deep lesson of the Constitution,” he says: “That we can’t help ourselves unless we all work together.”

5. Sleep, the 28th Constitutional Amendment?

“Wait!” Bybee yelps, “I thought Thrive was about getting more sleep? Isn’t that what Arianna Huffington is all about? Because what we actually need is a new amendment,” he proposes. “Eight hours of sleep. Non-negotiable!”

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