11/26/2012 03:49 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2013

I Am Grateful for the Pursuit of Happiness

Years ago, when my family still had a kid's table where we young ones would mash together all of our Thanksgiving dinner and call it dog food, I asked a question. I asked each family member what they were thankful for. I don't think this was a ground-breaking exercise, and I'm sure there are many tables across America on Thanksgiving where people do this. But I love that it brings us back to the reason we're all gathered together on a Thursday in November in the first place. It also allows each of us to be more honest than we would be in casual conversation; I learn something new about people I thought I knew very well each time we go around the table.

So this year, even though it's a bit after-the-fact (holiday, rather) I'm bringing the tradition to this Internet-table. I want to share with you what I am grateful for. And, I hope in the comments following this post that you will do the same with me.

I am grateful for: family, friends, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Our founding fathers kind of nailed it, didn't they? When you add family and friends to the list they gave us, that's really all there is in this life that matters. Though I think I often forget the importance of that last item: the pursuit of happiness.

A lot of people my age (20-something) are geared to the future: Will this job lead to a career I want? Will I ever fall in love? And if I already have, will it be forever? Will this degree give me the credentials I need to achieve my dreams? What are my dreams, anyway? Where should I have dinner next Thursday? Why doesn't the liquor store have good wine for cheaper than $15? (that last one I just threw in as an honest question -- if anyone knows of a great, cheap bottle, let me know).

I know that I, at least, have been worrying about the future far more than is necessary, healthy or productive over the past six months or so. So a few weeks ago, I decided to try to actively stop. The people whom I admire most are the ones who are able to inhabit the present more than they stress about the future or dwell in the past, and I want to be like them. I want to be like the girl I saw sitting outside Main Street Cafe in Concord, MA, reading a book without having an existential crisis because she isn't writing one yet (though to be fair, she could have been. I just know that she seemed totally engrossed and wasn't checking her phone every other minute, which is an unfortunate habit of which I am also trying to break myself).

This isn't to say that dreams, ambition and planning don't matter. They do. They are critical. But when the planning starts to overtake the plan I'm currently trying to execute is when I go a little bit nuts. The future-focus was beginning to manifest itself in trivial ways, even in my anticipation of the response to a text message I'd sent or a tweet or Facebook status I'd posted; the idea of someone reacting to me or reaching out to me in the future was becoming more exciting than the present, even if it was filled with great people and conversation.

I got frustrated with myself. And I hope I'm actually beginning to change my focus. I didn't set out to write this exact article, for example. I really did want to make a list of things I'm thankful for. But this post began to happen, so I went with it (the number one rule of writing is, after all, don't set out with an agenda... thank you, Colby College creative writing department).

I do, however, still want to give a shout out to the little things for which I am grateful: good, loud music in cars, docks and porches warmed by the sun, Maine, Rosie the Dog and Snug the Cat, Walden Pond, cheap sunglasses, roast sweet potatoes, Porter Square Books, the cobblestones on Beacon Hill, Keurig coffee machines, dancing however badly and my new boots.

"Happiness" is a vague term, but these days, because the future is so unsettled, I'm interpreting pursuing it to mean stepping outside myself and inhabiting the present. And whether that means actively appreciating how fuzzy and sweet the dog is as I pat her, or just realizing that I'm breathing as I sit by Walden Pond, it's something I'm learning to do.

Most importantly, however, I'm grateful to love and be loved by family and friends. They're the truly important parts of every moment. Even when I'm alone, knowing that I have such a wealth of support in my life is enough to keep me from being lonely. Most of the time.

I'm also grateful for really good bottles of wine when I go home to my parents' house (in the words of Kristen Wiig: "help me, I'm poor"). And for anyone who reads what I write.

So to all the other 20-somethings out there who are also trying to figure out how to best pursue your happiness, I say good luck. You're most definitely not alone.