Today I turn 23. Here are 23 things I’ve learned, principles to live by.
OPTIMISM IS UNDERRATED. I used to be pretty pessimistic and cynical. It’s easy to be. The world kind of seems like it might end soon, for starters. If not by nuclear war, then climate change seems a bit problematic, to say the least. And if that isn’t enough, everything we do seems to pretty much be completely insignificant on the cosmic side of things: we’re living our entire lives in the blink of an eye on a tiny ball of mud that is a speck of dust in the infinitely expanding universe. Even if humanity does survive the next 100 years, it’s almost certain we will eventually fade away. And even if that doesn’t happen, you will still die, and what you leave behind will fade away too. Nothing we do matters.
So why be positive and resilient in the face of certain annihilation? Why not give in? Because life is better when you have a deep-seated optimism. Not a surface-level, self-help, smiley version. But when you believe that we can work together as humans to make this world a slightly better place, just for the time being, and that you can make a difference: by being kind, by creating art or doing whatever it is you do. By rippling out, positively influencing the future of humanity.
I also find it’s helpful when I take a step back, go to the ontological, and realize what a remarkable thing it is to even exist at all, to be alive and be able to read this and to be able to think and be conscious. Existence is a mystery, there being something rather than nothing, and we won the lottery just to be born, let alone to be born with enough privilege to read this, let alone to be born during the most peaceful and prosperous time in the history of the human race. (Despite all the horrors that still exist, for so many people.) There’s too much to be grateful for for me to be negative.
And as one final point: negativity does nothing. It will make you angrier, it will make others around you angrier, and you will act not from a place of love. Even if the world is going to end, having this essential optimism is important for a productive worldview because it makes you be able to act at all. And being optimistic leads to being kind, and being kind leads to being happier. And if we’re going to die, we might as well spend this short life being as happy as we can be.
I now try to carry optimism with me in most matters. I assume that my best growth is ahead of me and that the world will continue, that it can be redeemed. I do this because I have no other choice if I want to be able to be a productive, sane, and happy member of society. It’s not delusional—I strive to understand reality as-it-is, and I am still pessimistic about certain matters. But again, it’s a deeper thing: it’s acting from a deeper place of optimism. Not necessarily “everything is going to be alright” but “everything is going to be, and that’s alright.” I should write fortune cookies.
Okay. That’s 23. I hope this list expands and refines over the years. I’ve been surrounded by the most remarkable people in my life, and I hope to continue to meet new people and have the opportunity to spread more love. I love you all, and I love life.
If you have any comments or responses, feel free to shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.