Keeping your chin up isn’t a simple task when you’re up to it in accruing student loan interest, a wimpy entry-level job market, and your legs are rubbery with exhaustion from treading the water between living with your parents and figuring out how to do it on your own.
Overwhelmed by everything that has and hasn’t yet found a way to happen in my life, I’ve spent a lot of time looking for the formula to guarantee me a happy life.
There isn’t one.
Aside from the uninformed, impatient and honest bliss of childhood, all of life is a battle to balance contentment with obligation. I consider the things on the following list to be a quasi-credo, the fulcrum of the teeter-totter which carries both sides of my life upwards and down.
So here goes. To start off–
Don’t think too much about your mistakes.
When the path in front of you is foggy, bumpy, too steep or blocked-off by a herd of very slow sheep, it’s easy to meditate on all of the moments when your life might have turned this way rather than that. But you don’t have Hermione Granger’s time-turner. Take it from someone who dropped out of high school, invested thirteen-thousand-dollars in a car worth seven-thousand, and racked up a collection of questionable forearm scars during my teen years: the past is staying exactly what it was. Look forward, even if you don’t like or can’t decipher what it is you’re looking at.
On that note…
Don’t think about who you were in high school. Ever.
Whether you got picked on or did the picking, you were a loser because you were a teenager. If bad things happened to you, you were too young to ask for or deserve them. If you did bad things, you weren’t old enough to know better. Take whatever lessons you can from who you used to be, and then forget about it until you’re old enough to not blush when you see your senior yearbook photo.
This will probably happen around age seventy.
Get a cat.
Or a dog, or a parakeet, or anything you can invest all of your love in and be guaranteed the same in return, as long as you provide it with love and affection. It will never break your heart or cheat on you, and you can take it wherever life takes you.This works for recovering addicts, it can work for budding adults.
Don’t get married, buy a house, have a baby or do anything else just because it’s what “grown ups do.”
You’re net even old enough to rent a car to run away in when all of these things fall apart or overwhelm you, so wait until your life is stable. More importantly, wait until stability won’t feel stagnant to you. And…
Don’t mistake stagnation for comfort.
Not ever in your life. Stay vigilant about your happiness, and if it begins to wane, figure out why and change it.
Spend a lot of time alone.
The biggest mistake a young person can make– especially one coming-of-age in our generation, where everything is wired to everyone all the time– is to be always connected to, surrounded by and immersed in everyone around you. And spending time alone doesn’t mean Facebooking “SOOOOOO done with everyone!!!!” and then refreshing the page every three minutes for an hour and a half to see who (nobody) writes something consolatory on your wall. It means reading a book or taking a walk or making yourself dinner. It means letting yourself think through the frustration of having no idea where your life is going. And, while we’re on that subject, don’t worry about where your life is going. It’ll get there, and you’ll meet up with it somewhere along the way.
Listen to a lot of music.
You should do this at all points of your life. It’s just healthy. And fun.
Stay in touch with your friends from childhood, high school, college, summer camp.
If you like someone, make an effort to keep them in your life. Because having people to turn to is important. But what is more important is having people you know, like, and trust all over the country– maybe the world?– and in all different fields of work and walks of life. Friends are assets. Good ones are worth hanging on to.
Don’t keep people around if they make you unhappy.
You’re not fifteen, gym class team-selection is over, there is no more homecoming queen. Do not invest your time in political relationships. You’re a big kid now. Act like it.
Pay your bills on time.
Figure out a way to do this. Credit is unfortunately important, and money is such a waste of worry.
Don’t listen to anyone else, ever.
You are old enough to stand behind your convictions, and ignoring what the world tells you you should be doing to go after something that you want– that you feel in the pit of your stomach and the back of your throat should be yours– is something worth regretting if it doesn’t work out; however, sticking with the status quo and never hanging your neck out to get slit is a regret you won’t be able to forgive. If nothing else, take my word on that.