You don't really notice it all at once, only in brief moments and stages. You look down and realize your socks actually match your shoes or you single-handedly planned a vacation. You help your mom set up her first Gmail account, and suddenly organizing your finances and calling your grandmother no longer feels tasking but rewarding.
Sitting here on the train from New Haven to New York City, I feel the good sense of becoming older and having a much better sense of who and where I am in my twenties.
These bits manifest themselves in the often mundane artifacts that mark adulthood: apartments, jobs, health insurance, relationships, reunions. We all use these markers to quantify and qualify a sense of where we are and how we got there.
Being 24 is nice. I'm still lost, but now in a calculated way. I have a better idea of what makes me laugh, what makes me cry, and what worries me. That visceral gut-wrenching reaction to right and wrong hits me much harder than it did when I was 21. I've had enough distance from college where I can appropriately respond rather than react to life's daily throws. I hate to say it, but I'm an adult. And I enjoy responsibility.
My philosophy on life has changed quite a bit since I graduated from college in 2010. I realize the road map to happiness begins not with the checklist towards adulthood but the complex and confusing path itself. I often hear about young people "trudging" along in their twenties -- the slowness, weariness, and unhappiness of flinging themselves into the world. But I challenge those of us in our twenties to put on a pair of rose colored glasses to see that, "we are living every moment we are living" as playwright Daniel Kitson so beautifully articulated in his one-man show, It's Always Right Now, Unless It's Later.
Kitson ends his play with a scene in which one of the main characters is given a coat by her mother the day before her mother unexpectedly passes away. This scene reminds me of the last time I ever saw my late uncle Toby.
The week before he died I had the chance to get up to the hospital and hangout with Toby as he was beginning to receive treatment surrounding his cancer prognosis. That cold winter day, we didn't talk about anything extraordinary. He didn't try and relay secrets of life to me in any subtle or momentous fashion. We talked about the things we both loved -- my god-sister, hockey, movies. We just lived. The last thing I said to him was that I loved him. And then I gave him a high-five and said I would see him in a few days.
Toby went into a coma three days after my visit and passed away a week thereafter. I still have his last text in my phone, "ok. no need for you to visit. im going to try to nap this afternoon." Toby knew of his delicate fight with death. But he did not let that fear change the scope of the things he truly cherished -- his family and traveling. He lived the greatest number of seconds he was given. He showed me that every moment we have is truly marvelous, even the small, seemingly unoriginal, fruitless ones. With that, here is my twenty-something recipe for stirring the happiness cognition:
1) Say Thank You: Take the time to write down daily or weekly affirmations. Thank your parents, friends, and coworkers for the love and support they give you. If you sincerely appreciate the things you have, you will continue to grow and nourish those things. As Dr. Seuss once famously wrote: "Be yourself, because the people that mind don't matter and the people that matter don't mind!"
2) Keep The Good Ones Around: I had a surprise message sitting in my inbox last week from my childhood best friend, Rebecca. Rebecca and I grew up together in L.A. and lost touch right around high school. Rebecca found me 10 years later and it was as if we had seen each other yesterday. We shared with complete genuine honesty where our lives had taken us, and I noted that nothing good truly gets away. I've encountered some bad eggs in my life but now I'm learning to surround myself with the good ones -- the loyal ones, the honest ones, the caring ones -- and making sure to reciprocate their efforts with my own.
3) Nurture Habits That Foster Growth: This has been tough, and requires sincere discipline, but I believe it is the most rewarding -- the sugar of the post-college recipe. I now see I am truly happy when I am fully committed to something I am passionate about or when I am surrounded by people I trust and love. It sounds easy, but it is hard to be honest, have integrity, be a good friend, to be thoughtful, and to say no and yes when appropriate.
Perhaps this is what it means to be grown-up.