Twenty Lessons I Learned From My 20s

“I have compiled the list below of ‘twenty things I learned from my 20s’ not as a ‘how to’ guide but to give the advice that I feel has come out of my past decade of life experiences, both good and bad, and what I would share with people reading this right now who are looking to make the most of this important decade in one’s life.”

I consider the 20s a decade in your life where you first have some autonomy over who you turn into as an adult, where you start to go professionally, how your relationships develop or change over time. I recently turned 30 years old over a week ago and it’s the first birthday I’ve had where you could feel that it was different than others. Being 30 signifies you are now heading into middle age, full- steam ahead, and while you are still young, you now have added responsibilities and commitments that you must maintain as an adult. You’re no longer a young adult but a full adult in my view.

As someone who turned 20 over ten years ago now, I wish I was able to receive the list below to see what lies ahead of me and what I should be aware of heading into the first decade of adulthood. Being in your 20s has a lot of the advantages that one could ever hope for, but it also comes with several pitfalls that can be very difficult to avoid. I have compiled the list below of ‘twenty things I learned from my 20s’ not as a ‘how to’ guide but to give the advice that I feel has come out of my past decade of life experiences, both good and bad, and what I would share with people reading this right now who are looking to make the most of this important decade in one’s life.

Many of these points I share below are not just for your 20s below. They are pieces of advice that I would give to most people throughout adulthood, and which should form the backbone of who you are as both a mature and responsible individual. Using a popular baseball analogy, your 20s like your life in general are going to throw a lot of curveballs, some more difficult to hit than others, but my article should serve to help you put the bat on the ball as much as possible, so you have more home runs than strikeouts.

Do not feel obligated to follow these twenty lessons I laid out below but try to keep them each in mind as what I have learned myself on how to be a better person and how to make it through a decade full of new opportunities but also filled with potential mishaps that could derail you beyond your 20s. I wish you good luck in your 20s and I hope you will find this list below pertinent into navigating your own life from 20 to 30 and beyond as I have done recently.  

  1. Be Grateful for What You Have

It’s easy to look at other people with envy and even jealousy especially in the age of social media and instant communication to see what they may have, and you don’t have. I find it’s best to try to cloud that out as much as possible to maintain not only your sanity but your overall happiness. Life isn’t a competition especially around material or financial success. If you have the basics taken care of with a roof over your head, food in your belly, and a few people who you can rely, you are richer than most in this world. Every day, you should be counting your blessings, whatever they are, because gratitude will make you feel better. People, especially in their 20s, like to compare themselves to others, but as you get older, you should be more content with what you have rather than what you don’t have by continually taking stock of what you are grateful for having in your life.

2. Find A Healthy Work / Life Balance

That drive to work, succeed, advance, get to a higher level of comfort is ever present in one’s 20s as you chart out your career goals. However, the seductive pull to work long hours and get that promotion should not come at the expense of time spent with family, friends or even just by yourself. I think a key part of one’s life, even in your 20s, is finding a good work-life balance, which is difficult when we are often tied to the hip to our cell phones, laptops to keep us plugged into our jobs even after hours. Having a job, you like and enjoy working at is a big goal for someone in their 20s, but it should not come at the expense of your health and wellness. For example, working 60-70 hours a week may bring in more money, but if it’s causing you severe stress, worsening your diet, and shortening time with loved ones, is it worth it to continue like that? By the end of your 20s, you should be able to understand what your own work-life balance looks like and what kind of jobs may be best in line for you to achieve this goal.

3. Having a Routine is Not a Liability

When I was a child, the concept of a routine was anathema to me. Why would I do the same thing day in and day out when I could play all day? However, starting in your teens before you reach adulthood and even more in your 20s, routines are not bad for you. It’s part of creating a schedule that doesn’t burn you out or leave you lopsided in doing too little or too much at once. In your 20s, you need to decide which day(s) you’ll go grocery shopping or which day(s) to go to the gym or to Yoga. It’s part of realizing you can’t do everything at once and you need to make time each day for activities or hobbies when you are not at work or working on higher education. In this decade, you realize time is truly a valuable commodity and it means creating a set time for taking care of your hygiene, doing the dishes, seeing friends or family, cooking meals on a regular basis. Instead of doing these things on a whim, the struggle in your 20s is creating a weekly routine that allows you to stay on top of things from exercising to eating well to being sociable. This item is probably one of the hardest to do consistently but establishing a set routine, at least during the week, doing things that are important to be a successful adult, you’ll have been the better for doing it.

4. Stay in Touch with Family and Friends

Aging parents, friends who move away, nieces and nephews you must meet; these are some of the people you should do your best to keep in touch with in your 20s. It does get hard as your new adult responsibilities will get in your way. Sometimes, you’ll have to take the initiative to call (don’t text) the people in your life you truly care about. It does not have to be every day but every week, call your parents (sometimes twice or more) and let them know how you’re doing. If your parents are not around, call an aunt, uncle, or even a cousin just to check-in.

Families can grow apart when not everybody is living in the same household. Don’t let your family life or your friendships atrophy for the sake of your career or business. Make sure to meet new people and be open to new friendships or relationships but always tend to the people you’ve known the longest who you enjoy spending time with who’ve known you since before your 20s. Life will move increasingly fast as you move through this decade so make sure you call and see family and friends as much as you can. You won’t regret it and it will really lift your spirits up when you most need it.

5. Continue to Learn and Read New Things

Learning does not cease when you get your Associates, Bachelors, or master’s degree. A great way to solidify your career or your work is to keep learning new things or to improve at skills that you have a basic understanding of. Instead of vegging out on social media or watching television, make that effort to learn a new skill or pick up a new language. Even if it is just an hour a week, it’s good to keep learning those skills and abilities that will propel you forward. Whether its coding, carpentry, painting, sculpting, or web development, find those books or courses that can exercise your brain power outside of work at least an hour per week. Doing something that you’re interested in that’s not related to work will also help your own identity and make you a bit more versatile in terms of your abilities. You could work as a marketer during the day and still be a writer at night. If you enjoy doing something, keep learning and reading about it.

Lastly, reading books does not have to end in college. You can still read books at night before bed, which is better than looking at a screen. Strive to read at least 10 books a year and read about subjects you really enjoy or are curious to learn more about. In addition to picking up a new skill, reading a new book is a great way to spark your synapses and get you to invest in something separate from your day job or business.

6. Always Be Kind and Polite to Others

If you’re reading this article, I really hope you still remember the Golden Rule that was likely first taught to you when you were five years old, and the teacher shunned you for putting glue in a classmate’s hair. If you don’t, here’s a quick refresher: “Treat others the way you like to be treated.” You’re in your 20s now and you should act like it. Some people never stop being that person putting glue in someone’s hair or making jokes when they shouldn’t. No one likes a bully especially when you are no longer a child or a teenager. Grow up and treat people kindly each day.

If you are rude to someone because you were having a bad day, apologize and say that you’ll try to do better. There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘sorry’ to someone and you should always think about how your behavior impacts other people. You never know what someone is going through in life so as the saying goes, ‘be kind.’ Whether you are talking to a customer, a boss, a bus driver, or the person next to you, be kind and polite. I truly believe that what goes around, comes around, so if you are rude to others, don’t be surprised if your own life starts to go off the tracks. Karma is real and it will get you back so in your 20s and beyond, strive to be a kind person who cares about other people. Always.

7. Make Time for Exercise and Self-Care

Today, it can be too easy to live a sedentary lifestyle. You can go from your apartment or house to your car to a building and back home. You often will have to force yourself in your 20s to take care of yourself physically. It starts with making choices on how to spend your time. Exercising isn’t meant to be fun. It can be enjoyable especially with other people but make no mistake, it’s not easy to do especially consistently.

However, your life will be better off for having made the effort at least 2-3x a week or more to take care of your body’s needs. Exercise looks different to everybody but find some type of it that you enjoy and stay with it. If you need to mix it up, do so and incorporate different activities in each week. For example, on Monday, you could do a Yoga class. On Wednesday, you could go for a couple mile run, and on Friday and during the weekend, you go to lift weights or hike / walk around a park. I’m not an exercise expert but it’s good to combine aerobic and anaerobic exercise together if possible. The key thing with making time is you must set times during the week and even on the weekend strictly for exercising and make it into part of your routine.

Also, self-care is a big topic these days but find time to relax and just be present. Whether that is meditation, taking a nap, sitting out on your patio or porch. Spend time away from doing anything and just catch up on personal relaxation time. You should not be doing something 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so take the time to just be present, do nothing for a bit, and even watch a sunset or the stars lit up at night. I promise you won’t regret it.

8. The Earlier You Start Saving, The Better

One thing you can know for sure as you enter your 20s is you will likely not know what to hell ‘personal finance’ means and how it applies to you. Sadly, it is a subjected neglected by most high schools and even colleges nowadays. No one tells you what a ‘low interest rate’ indicates, how a ‘401k’ is vital for retirement, or what an ‘index fund’ means. It’s a societal issue and while there is more education out there, you often will have to seek it out for yourself. Getting out of debt as soon as possible is priority #1 but then your next priority should be to save money for your future even if it is 5-10 years down the line. Basically, don’t spend everything you earn and if you ask someone for advice, make sure they’re an expert or at least have their own savings fund to talk about. I won’t touch investing since that’s not my area of expertise, but I would say in your 20s, you should try to save money whether it’s for personal emergencies or needs that could come up or for long-term goals that will go beyond your 20s. If you can save money and earn interest, that’s even better, but make sure you can be consistent about saving and to know how much out of your budget can go towards savings each month or so.

9. Educate Yourself on Your Finances

My advice to you, reader, as someone who was a novice at anything ‘personal finances’ related for most of my 20s is to start saving money and the earlier, the better. If you can ask your parents, please do so, but also try to ask out someone who works in personal finance for a coffee or even send them an email. Do your own research, check your sources, but make sure to start thinking of your financial goals especially if you are taking either student loan debt or credit card debt or both.

There are several great online tools out there for people in their 20s and 30s to get started with financial goals. I would recommend reading at least one book about finances in your 20s whether it is about saving or investing or both. In this area of life, unfortunately, it’s for people in this decade of life to figure out on our own. No one is going to hold your hand when it comes to finances. At the end of the day, it’s your money and you need to decide what you want to do with it. I would just be sure to research a lot, act wisely, and make sure to manage your risk as best as possible. Again, I’m not a financial advisor but in your 20s, my main tip would be to educate yourself as best as possible and to be aware that it’s important to think about your financial future.

10. Avoid Dependency on Anything or Anyone

Dependency on someone or something is not a good way to go through your 20s. You should always be able to cut a dependency loose from your life especially if it is sidetracking you from making the most of your 3rd decade. Know also when to cut out something you can get addicted to like smoking, gambling, drinking, etc. If you are an addict, don’t feel ashamed about it but seek help if you can and try to wean yourself off that dependency. Any kind of addiction can really hamper your life and set your 20s in the wrong direction. Be sure to live a life of moderation in most areas and even abstain if you think that is best for your overall health and wellness. If others encourage you to lean into your dependency rather than to minimize or avoid it, you might need to cut them out of the picture as well. Be increasingly careful of whom or what you let into your life especially if you have an addictive personality or a lifestyle that encourages it. To make the most of your 20s, addiction or dependency can derail you and make you worse off.

11. Travel If You Can, As Much as You Can

Traveling to different countries and even around my country has done wonders for my own development as a person. You broaden your horizons in several ways including being able to challenge yourself to do what you once thought was unfeasible. You also become more self-confident and self-reliant especially if you travel alone. Your own personality will also develop as you learn a 2nd or a 3rd language during your time overseas and you should be able to start a conversation with another person without feeling a strong sense of anxiety. Better than any book on history or culture, traveling to the city, town, or country where it exists, and you can see it with your own eyes is worth the ticket price alone. Often, you will know much less about the world when you thought and will be humbled by its complexities.

You’ll also be aware of your biases, your own shortcomings, and your lack of perspective having grown up in one part of the world, which has a culture all its own. Being exposed to different peoples, cultures, and languages in your 20s, especially if you can do so for school or for work is worth it 100% of the time. If you can’t afford to travel a lot, try to find opportunities to volunteer or teach and it should be more financially possible. My last bit of advice here is to not let your 20s go by without traveling for some time. It’s the best decade of your life to get out there and do it.

12. Don’t Be Afraid to Take Some Risks

Simply put, you won’t be able to go through life or even your 20s without taking a risk of some sort. Risk is part of our nature whether it’s driving a car, operating machinery, or cleaning the roof of a house. We take risks every day whether we know it or not. The difference is that during your 20s, it is the best decade with less responsibilities than after 30 and beyond hits you. Especially if you are not married and don’t have children, you have more time to be a bit selfish and decide what you want to do with your life without it affecting others directly.

Some folks want to move to a new country, others want to try out different career options, and there are always those people who want to start a business and strike it out on their own. Whatever kind of drastic change you make, there is risk involved but even if you fail, I promise that you’ll feel better for having given it a shot, learning a lot in the process, rather than to not have tried at all. Whatever risk you do take though, make sure you have a backup plan and/or exit strategy in case things don’t work out. Risk management in your 20s is just as important if not more so.

13. Cut Out Toxic People from Your Life

If someone is negatively impacting you whether an acquaintance, a friend, or even a family member, maybe it’s best to cut ties with them especially if they rely upon you too much in an unhealthy manner. Toxic people will drag you down to their level and if they can’t be relied upon or won’t meet your half-way, then they are not worth the time or the effort. Like a negative addiction, being in an unhealthy relationship or friendship with someone else can cause a lot of harm and leave you wary of giving others a chance afterwards. If someone is adding to your own stress, anxiety, or causing you to be upset, then you need to cut them out. If they are a family member or a co-worker who you can’t avoid entirely, do your best to limit the amount of time you spend with them each day. As you get older, you are going to want to have more peace of mind and dealing with scammers, dunces, nincompoops, liars, and cheats is no way to go through your 20s and beyond.

14. Your Path in Life Can Change, That’s Not Bad

As the saying goes, “life is not a straight line.” You may quit your job, get fired from another one (through no fault of your own most likely), find a hobby or a side business that takes precedence, break up with someone, fall in love again, etc. Don’t try to set everything in your 20s like clockwork. Often, plans will fail or change so be adaptable and while some people may want to plant roots somewhere and some place right away, I recommend being open to new opportunities or a new lifestyle if your path doesn’t look right to you. There’s really no shame to changing one’s path during the 20’s especially when it comes to career or relationships. You are in that decade of life where you are still figuring out for yourself who you are, where you want to go, who you want to be, and with whom you want to be with. Take your time to examine your options, think your decisions through, and be flexible with where things go. If your path zig zags, don’t be upset about it. In my view, that’s part of life itself.

15. Learn How to Cook for Yourself and Others

Gone are the days of microwaved mac and cheese, hot pockets, and 3 AM McDonald’s runs, at least hopefully, that’s the case. Your 20s is the best decade for learning how to cook and more importantly, learning how to cook well. Start out with simple recipes, ask friends and family for help and advice, and make sure you use YouTube videos and other online resources to assist you. Cooking for yourself is crucial to being an adult and no one is going to hold your hand here really. While you may think it is more convenient to order food in or eat out at a restaurant, it is simply unsustainable, lazy, and expensive.

While there’s nothing wrong with ordering in once a week or eating out on a weekend, make sure you’re not relying on other people to cook your food all the time. That idea is a recipe for disaster and won’t serve you well in your 20s. During this decade, you should be able to cook at least 3-4 times a week and get good at grocery shopping. Your diet and your wallet will be thanking you for being more self-reliant. Also, once you can cook well for yourself, you can move on to the bigger challenge of cooking for your girlfriend or boyfriend and then make your way up to family members and good friends. Don’t let UberEats or the Local Italian restaurant be your full-time cooks. Do it yourself and reap the rewards.

16. Pick up New Hobbies and Interests

Nothing keeps you as fresh or as versatile as picking up a new hobby or interest. If you are not doing anything at night or on the weekends, why not take a few hours to do something new? I think it’s an excellent way to diversify your own identity outside of your job or business. It is also a great means of meeting new people who could become friends after a while. It breaks up your routine a bit or adds some fun to it. You will have to find what is most appealing to you but in your 20s, you should experiment with different hobbies, interests and keep the two or three interests that you find most interesting. It also doesn’t hurt to drop a hobby or an interest if it outlives its usefulness. You can get a lot out of switching hobbies for new ones to keep both your mind and body sharp.

17. Be Emotionally Self-Aware

Emotional intelligence has become quite the popular buzz word in the professional world in the past decade. It has become increasingly taught at colleges and universities and is widely thought of as one of the most important things to have in life to be successful. However, I think what this broad term boils down for someone in their 20s is to be aware of their own actions and feelings and how those affect other people. Knowing when you acted improperly or upset someone is key to having that emotional self-awareness and indicating some emotional intelligence. Being able to apologize sincerely, think about how you were wrong or could have handled a situation better, and being able to analyze your own feelings are all great traits to develop in your 20s. Not only will it make you a better person but you’re likely to gain respect from colleagues and supervisors alike when you are honest of your shortcomings and aware of when you were in the wrong. If you can look inwardly and think about it affects others outwardly, you will be considered emotionally self-aware.

18. Find The Right Kind of Higher Education for You

There is no one way to being considered a success. I think for a lot of people in their 20s and especially when I was going through them, the messaging to me and others was solely about a four-year college degree. However, the world is not static, and many good paying jobs don’t require a degree, or you can get by with a set of skills that you can develop outside of a university. The growing awareness of how trade skills are needed such as being a welder, an electrician, or a plumber or the current shortage of them is a great reason why trade schools or apprenticeship programs are great options in this decade.

If you can’t afford a private university or even a public university, look at community colleges in your area or state to figure out if that two-year or four-year program would be a good fit for you. You can always transfer to a good college or university as well if you have a good year or so at a community college first. I believe it’s more important to not rush into college if it’s not the right fit or if it is financially untenable. Make sure you exercise your options and be aware of what skills you want to learn about and use to find a career.

19. Sleep, Sleep and More Sleep

I need at least six to seven hours of sleep each day and while you don’t think getting a good amount of sleep is important in your 20s, your sleep amount or lack thereof in your 20s will affect you in your 30s and beyond. I never thought it was healthy to pull all-nights when I was in college, and I encourage those of you reading this who are in a higher education program to think wisely about working or studying without sleep. Sleep rejuvenates us, affects our mood, and even has positive or negative effects on the body. Don’t let your job or education affect the amount of sleep you get. Make sure to have a set time in mind when you should start to get ready for sleep and try to abide by it.

Be wary also of those people around you who disturb your sleep schedule or make you feel guilty for going to bed earlier than them. Try to prioritize getting as much sleep as possible and if you can get a nap in to make up for lost sleep, you should be doing so. Don’t let that term paper or final exam keep you from sleeping the normal number of hours that the average person needs to function. You are not a robot so don’t be up 24 hours trying to be one. Sleep is your friend especially as you get older and need more of it to have enough energy to make it through your busy day.

20. Don’t Forget to Take Your Vitamins

Lastly, not only is sleep a good friend of yours during your 20s but it’s also the time in your life where you should be consistent on taking vitamins. Remember when you were a kid, and your mom gave you chewable vitamins that looked like characters from the Flintstones? If you do, then you had a great mom like I did. Your parents were right though about vitamins and just because you’re not a kid anymore does not mean you should stop taking your vitamins. You should be supplementing your meals with the basic Vitamin B, C, and D and especially Vitamin D for those of us who are deficient in it. When it gets cold, dark, and the sun is absent, Vitamin D will be your best friend.

I also would recommend taking some Zinc, Fish Oil, and Magnesium as well and there are several positive effects from using those supplements I mentioned above. Now, these are just the vitamins and supplements I use on a daily or weekly basis. You should as always do your research, talk to your doctor, and see what vitamins or supplements would be good for your health. I just believe that vitamins have a lot of positives and can make you a healthier person overall, which is a key part of the foundation of your 20s and beyond.

Gross Domestic Product v. Gross National Happiness

“Most of us know what Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is having learned it at some point in high school or in college. The total value of all finished goods, products, and services produced within a country’s borders over a specific time period such as a quarter (three months) or a year. Economists commonly use GDP as a model for economic health when it comes to an individual country.”

Most of us know what Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is having learned it at some point in high school or in college. The total value of all finished goods, products, and services produced within a country’s borders over a specific time period such as a quarter (three months) or a year. Economists commonly use GDP as a model for economic health when it comes to an individual country. If GDP grows positively or increases over time, then generally you could assume that the economy is doing well or is at least maintaining its equilibrium. However, when the GDP of a country is declining or has been stagnant for multiple years, economists are likely to assume there is a problem of some sort.

There are economic terms related to Gross Domestic Product as a recession (two straight quarters of negative GDP growth) leading to an economy to contract rather than grow. We also know of an economic depression where an economy contracts for years and is often associated with double-digit negative growth and/or high unemployment, inflation rates. What is less talked about is how do we measure the health and well-being of citizens within a country’s borders.

What other measurement besides GDP could measure a country on a national scale? While GDP measures the economic health, the actually mental health of a country’s citizens has been measured by a little-known survey conducted by the small land-locked, mountainous country of Bhutan, which is a Buddhist kingdom that is located at the eastern part of the Himalaya mountains. This national survey is given out only every five years to the citizens of Bhutan, of which there are only 750,000 people living in the small country. Instead of a simple 0 to 10 survey on if you are happy on a scale, the survey is quite comprehensive in its questions.

The government of Bhutan asks over 300 questions in the survey and can take multiple hours to complete. Questions are compensated a day’s working wage to answer the questions and it strives to measure all forms of human capital and not just the economic capital measured by GDP. The survey has nine different domains, 33 social indicators, and hundreds of variables. The categories of the survey include education, health, culture, time use, psychological well-being, community development, environmental practices, and overall living standards. This GNH survey has become a cornerstone of Bhutan’s presence on the world stage and has gained notoriety since it was introduced in 1998 as a form of alternative human development.

About 8,000 households in Bhutan answer the survey every five years, which is conducted by the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH research. Questions can range from being general about prayer and/or meditation habits to being specific about if you ‘trust your neighbors’ to if you ‘fight with your family at all.’ The measuring of the country’s happiness began in 1972 when the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, declared that the “Gross National Happiness is more important than gross domestic product” for the country.

Bhutan has seen numerous changes over almost fifty years since the movement towards measuring GNH began. The same king helped ensure a parliamentary democracy was established in 2008 with the constitution and political reforms putting him in a more ceremonial role. Bhutan has strived to actually use the survey to help improve certain aspects of the lives of its citizens such as having free education, health care, and getting electricity at no extra cost. Bhutan’s new democracy is messy like any young democracy would be, but Bhutan is known for attracting increased numbers of tourists before the COVID-19 pandemic began and for being largely self-sufficient in terms of food production and for being a peaceful, inwardly looking nation.

The concept of Gross National Happiness is related to the country’s prominent religion of Buddhism with the focus on being content with less, not being so concerned with materialism or economic gains, and to be calm, cool, and collected when facing life’s many challenges. Seeking harmony with one’s friends, family, and neighbors is also another key part of the GNH survey. Bhutan is a beautiful, land-locked country, which has provided its citizens with a number of basic needs such as education, health care, and peaceful relations with its neighbors with having a smaller GDP than many other nations.

The paradox of a country such as Bhutan is that it may be the only country to internally measure happiness in some formal way, but it still ranks in the median in terms of national happiness by outside surveys. Norway was ranked 1st by the United Nation in its 2020 World Happiness Report, which had a different format and questioning style than Bhutan’s, but for which is a relatively new kind of survey that Bhutan’s GNH survey helped to inspire. While Norway topped the list, Bhutan ranked 97th out of the 153 nations surveyed, which may not inspire much confidence, but the country does face ongoing challenges especially with its GDP.

Bhutan ranks as a ‘least developed’ country by the United Nations and is dealing with the effects of climate change, high income inequality, increasing youth unemployment, and an uncertain energy future due to the effects of environmental degradation. Bhutan’s GDP is only $2.2 billion and while material wealth and economic growth are not integral to the GNH survey, it likely has a role to play in affecting the happiness of its citizens.

The 2015 GNH Survey by Bhutan reported that “91.2% of people reported experiencing happiness, and 43.4% of people said that they are deeply happy.” From my reading of the survey, Bhutan is committed to improving the happiness of its people by having such an insightful and detailed survey and while their national happiness has room for improvement, they have taken that crucial first step to actually evaluating if its citizens are happy or not, which is quite unique when compared to other nations around the world.

The first step to solving the problem is realizing there is one. If a country focuses only on GDP as a measure not only for economic health but for the health of their citizens in other ways, then they are making a false dichotomy. Economies are naturally going to rise and fall in growth rates but the same can be said of people’s own happiness over time. The key is to first be aware of how happy people are by having a comprehensive yet accessible way to measure that elusive emotion as best as you can. Bhutan is a model for not seeing only its Gross Domestic Product as a sign of national progress.

Any nation can be wealthy and still be extremely unhappy and a nation can be poor but still be happy. The same could be also for a poor nation being unhappy as a rich nation being very happy. The key to 21st century economics will be to figure out how to find that balance between economic success and people’s happiness. You can have the average citizen make a lot of money and be considered a ‘success’ but what if the schools in their town are lousy, the health care is too expensive and of low quality, and the community is distrustful of one another.

Bhutan has taken the initiative as a country for seeing happiness as being an important part of a nation’s well-being, which can be measured in various ways. While their GDP is very small, they recognize that economic growth is not simply everything that a country should be known for. If you have a certain amount of money in the economy, where are you putting the national product towards? How will you know how to spend the money gained from your citizens through taxes without knowing what their grievances are and what they unhappy with?

Having Gross National Happiness be part of a country’s consciousness involves asking difficult yet necessary questions from the population on different aspects of their lives. Bhutan has taken that crucial step towards asking their citizens what they are happy with, what they are not happy with, and what could be improved in their lives. When you have that necessary information coming in, the government can then take steps to allocate the tax money and other revenue they have available to put it towards where its’ needed most. If government services need to be improved, they’ll know from their citizenry that it’s a priority. If living standards need to be improved such as providing more housing, better food, or less pollution, they will have that awareness from knowing more from the GNH data that they are receiving.

Lastly, a government like Bhutan’s can work closely with the parliament, civil servants, non-governmental organizations, and civil society leaders to take the survey’s results and work together on a common set of facts and figures to start to improve the country in needed areas where people are unhappy about. If other governments can learn from Bhutan when it comes to Gross National Happiness, it’s that it can be measured from your citizens in a comprehensive way and that each government can learn from its citizens how their people’s lives can be improved and in what ways beyond just how much money their people are producing each year.

Sources:

https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/02/12/584481047/the-birthplace-of-gross-national-happiness-is-growing-a-bit-cynical

https://www.grossnationalhappiness.com

https://www.happiness-report.s3.amazonaws.com/2020/WHR20.pdf

A Most Difficult Year

“The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.”

When you begin a new year, you expect the most out of it in terms of happiness, health, and opportunities. You hope for the best and pray to avoid the worst. However, there are going to be years that don’t live up to expectations and if anything, topple over any kind of expectations you had to begin on January 1st. The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.

For the vast majority of people, 2020 has been a year to forget and to put behind us. Still though, there is a lot that we can and should learn from this year to make the next one a more forgiving and hopeful year. 2020 was a most difficult year and one long, seemingly almost never-ending ‘Black Mirror’ episode but I take solace in the fact that those of us who made it through this year are more resilient, better able to deal with uncertainty, and able to be happy with less instead of more.

We will always remember 2020 and while I am looking forward to putting it behind me, there are certain lessons to be drawn from a year like this one to ensure we never have a year as uniquely horrible as this one if only we start to change our behaviors and our actions collectively as a society. Beyond climate change, racial injustice, rampant inequalities, and a raging pandemic, there is also the sense that we are failing each other not just in terms of our institutions but also in terms of our commitment towards one another. Revitalizing faith, trust, and kindness as fundamental tenets of our society will be an important benchmark in seeing how much we have learned from the ills of 2020 and how not to repeat these failures in a future crisis of our own making.  

In a time where our institutions are increasingly unable to meet the challenges placed upon them, I hope we will recommit to them additional resources rather than letting them atrophy and decay after the pandemic is over. I think most of us have learned how necessary it is to have functioning and responsive institutions in a crisis and how much we can be hurt by not having them be available to us especially when time is of the essence. Institutions will only work as much as we allow them to so it’s up to us collectively to believe in them, to fund them properly, and to have leaders who will tell us the truth, understand our needs, and be able to respond effectively. When our institutions fail us, we are all put in the precarious position of relying heavily on our friends and our families, which is sometimes a luxury that not everyone has available to them.

Our personal connections cannot help us though when it comes to securing masks, getting us tests, or giving us financial relief when we have no other option. A pandemic shows us how vital it is to have both local and national institutions in place who can help and are there to help rather than leaving every man or woman for him or herself causing us to act more selfish or more distrustful of others. Pandemics can bring the best out of people and they can bring the worst out of people. It is my belief that this pandemic has shown us how much our institutions have become dysfunctional, how our leaders have been corrupted, and how our society has become way too individualistic especially in a time where cooperation and unity are so desperately needed.

Individuals have been heroic for all of us whether its health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery people, teachers, first responders, etc. who have shown more care and urgency than many larger institutions who have taken months to actually do anything substantive to help people. They are doing their job well under extremely difficult circumstances and hopefully after this year, we will reward them more not just with our thanks but also with better treatment in terms of financial payment, respect, and providing them with more resources when they need them.

Those people on the frontlines like the rest of us have had to become much more resilient in the face of such difficult circumstances. As I have mentioned before in previous articles, Resiliency is one of the most important traits you can have in a year that has been so difficult. The ability to overcome challenges, break down barriers, and surpass obstacles has been so important in 2020 where our resiliency has been tested each and every day practically. Some have had to be more resilient than others, but we have all had to play our part in keeping each other healthy and safe.

Resiliency is also about keeping your spirits up, not letting yourself get too down, and reminding yourself that tough times don’t last forever but tough people do. If you thought you were going to make it through your entire life without facing a challenging or historic year, you would be mistaken. Whether it’s the Great Depression, World War II, or the tumultuous upheavals brought on by the 1960s or the end of the Cold War, each generation is inevitably going to face moments where their resiliency is tested, where comfort is hard to find, and where good days may be hard to come by.

However, if we can get through the hard years in our life like 2020, there’s not much you cannot overcome if you are able to maintain your resiliency. 2020 teaches us that life can go sideways, and that uncertainty is more part of the human conditions than we would like to admit. While we strive for some sense of predictability or comfort in our lives, we inherently know that is just not possible and that we are never guaranteed tomorrow. I hope 2020 also teaches us not to take anything for granted especially our health or our financial security.

Inevitably, we must always plan for uncertainty because it may be coming to us when we least expect it as it did in the early months of 2020. Whether it’s trying to save more money, keeping ourselves that much more physically fit, or keeping some extra food around the house in case of an emergency, I hope that we will plan for uncertainty to come our way again because you never know when it can rear its ugly head again.

Learning how to be more resilient and also knowing how to face uncertainty have been keys to overcoming 2020 but it’s also been about how to be more kind to others. You never know what someone else is going through, how they have been affected by the pandemic, and what they are risking by coming in to work every day when they can’t stay home. If you can’t be kind, then you shouldn’t say anything to anyone. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be kind to one another, to look out for your fellow man, to donate money if you are able to, and even if you’re feeling particularly generous, donate your time and effort to a food bank or a homeless shelter to help those most in need right now.

Also, be sure to check in on those people most close to you whether it’s a close friend, a family member, or someone who you are close to at your workplace or school. Now is the time to make sure everyone is doing as well as can be, that they are not isolated without hearing your voice or seeing your face virtually indefinitely. It is very hard to spend the holidays alone so now is the best time before a new year begins to check in on those people who matter to you the most. Lastly, do not forget to support your local businesses during these hard times whether it’s the mom-and-pop store down the street or your favorite restaurant since they could all use the business right now and it’s the right thing to do to support the economy.

Kindness is going to be even more important in the coming year than ever. Between economic troubles, a continuing pandemic, and political strife, it’s best to be kind always and to empathize with what other people are going through even if they are complete strangers. Give help to those you need and fight for those with less. Make sure you continue to hold people accountable for their actions whether it’s your neighbor next door or the mayor of your town or city. Only by strengthening the bonds of trust through kindness, honesty, and transparency can we begin to heal the divisions and disparities within our society.

The pandemic and other events in 2020 have shown us how important it is to work together, to look for one another, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and to deal with uncertainty and stay resilient as much as possible. I hope things get better for all of us in 2021 and I want to encourage everyone to follow the public health guidelines throughout next year.

Keep wearing a mask, stay socially distant, wash your hands frequently, take care of yourself physically with enough exercise and healthy eating. Make your New Year’s resolutions too if you believe in them so as to strive for new goals and opportunities in 2021. Be kind to others again, stay positive, and don’t let adversity throw you into despair.

I wish all of my readers a very Happy New Year and for a healthy, prosperous, and safe 2021 to come to each and every one of us.

What We Need vs. What We Want

Understanding that you must be able to divide up the two categories fairly and also be able to balance them healthily with our seemingly limitless desires at times is key to being a fully formed individual.

A key part of adulthood is being able to know the differences between knowing ‘what we want’ vs. knowing ‘what we need.’ Understanding that you must be able to divide up the two categories fairly and also be able to balance them healthily with our seemingly limitless desires at times is key to being a fully formed individual. As children, we are taught to temper our desires to manageable levels and to remember to not be selfish especially when it conflicts with the needs of others.

We are flawed as humans in that we often let our wants overtake our immediate needs and that we cannot distinguish the two in terms of actual importance. I may want a new suit but if I only have so much money, do I really need it? Am I being selfish by buying a suit when I already have a perfectly good one at you? These questions are especially important to pose when you have limited money or time to contribute towards either your needs or wants. What we focus on each day shows us if we care more about ‘needs’ or ‘wants.’

It has to be non-negotiable in your own life how your needs come first and will always come first. Your wants have to be considered in terms of whether you actually need them and how much they will actually add that much to your life. When it comes to your wants, you should not only be thinking about their utility in the short-term but also in the long-term. Will you be that much better off not just a day later, a week later, or a year later when you satisfy those wants? A short-term want will be fleeting and may end up not even be worth it whereas a long-term want like starting a business, getting your degree, or moving overseas are often worthwhile investments and satisfactory wants that will put you ahead in your life. If you do want to fulfill your wants, they should be in the interest of you moving forward, learning new things, and developing your interests.

Short-term wants are good every now and then like a new bicycle, a nice meal out with friends, or a trip to a day spa, but the gratification will be short-term, and you can’t rely on those wants to fulfill you in the long-term. Long-term wants are harder to achieve but they often have higher levels of satisfaction. These wants aren’t automatically given to you and you have to work for them but it’s often worth the effort more so than just things being handed to you automatically. Your wants have to be kept in moderation too because if you let your wants overwhelm your needs, you may be left with less than you had before. An adult keeps their wants in check and prioritizes their needs first to make sure that their life is headed in the right direction. Long-term gains have to always take priority over short-term gratification, which may give you happiness but won’t give you fulfillment in the long run.

Your needs in daily life should always come first in terms of securing them. Whether it is water to drink, clean air to breathe, food to eat, and a roof over your head; they are all part of the equation to keep you in good spirits and in good health. Do not let your wants take away from your immediate needs because when it comes down to it, your wants may come and go but your needs are your needs and that never really changes. Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ was pretty much on the money in terms of distinguishing what are most urgent needs are and beyond that, what could be considered wants. We have the physical needs of eating, drinking, sleeping, maintaining homeostasis (not too warm or too cold) but beyond that, we start to go into the wants territory of seeking out self-actualization as well as having a steady purpose in life.

We all need human connection along with friends and family who care about us but that is not given to everybody and that kind of need is something that you have to work for and what you have to ‘want’ in a way. We all need safety and security to carry out our lives but that is something that we have to work towards to and that is not guaranteed when we are born. What we need may not been given to us like friends and family or the security of a place we live in and we may have to take action to turn those needs into a reality by wanting them badly enough.

In Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, our basic needs must be taken care of first as the pyramid shows us but then you have our psychological needs such as love, relationships, friendships, and feelings of accomplishment and goal-setting. As you go up the pyramid, you get into the ‘self-fulfillment’ needs category of achieving our potential, reaching our set goals, and becoming the best version of ourselves through self-actualization. This category is tricky, but we may feel that we need to be fulfilled that way; how hard are you willing to work to achieve that and how much do you really want to achieve it?

I would argue that our basic needs of food, drink, shelter, warmth, etc. are real needs but our psychological or self-fulfillment needs are different in that while each of us need them in our life, they are really ‘wants’ that you have to earn and to work for. Our basic needs are not given to us either, but they are of such urgency that we will do almost anything to have them guaranteed and it often subsumes our other ‘needs’ like love, friendship, or career goals.

What we need to live is our number one priority. Everything after that is supplementary in life. What we want Is important but it’s clear that our wants are endless at times and we need to prioritize with our limited time and/or money what matters to us most to achieve or to have. Being able to prioritize while understanding this internal battle is key to being a fully formed individual capable of holding our wants at bay while getting our needs taken care of.

Lastly, it is important to distinguish between short-term needs and long-term needs. Short-term needs should always take priority over long-term needs, but you can work towards both at the same time. You can hunt for food and still have companionship with a loved one at the same time. You can watch your vegetables grow while you’re studying for your next course exam or replying to emails. However, if your immediate needs are unmet or neglected, your long-term needs will have to take a backseat because they are just not as critical as what short-term needs are in terms of daily occurrence. You need to eat and drink water a lot more than you need to see your family and friends as an adult. I’m sure you would love to see them every day but it’s more likely you would see them once a week or a month or maybe less if you’re really busy.

Your immediate needs can be balanced with long-term needs, however, if you can’t cook for yourself, make money to support yourself, or be able to clean and take care of yourself physically, not many or very few of your long-term needs can be met after. As an adult, you need to take care of the daily details before you can reach your lifelong dreams and goals. What we need vs. what we want is a constant battle taking place in our mind. If we don’t pay attention to how to win this battle by trusting in our innate knowledge of what we are capable of doing to achieve them one by one and what are healthy priorities to focus on, you won’t be able to get very far in life with either your needs or your wants.

Steady As We Go

As we all know by now, the world is going through a very tough time right now. Instead of speculating about when will things be back to some sense of normalcy, it would not be right to do guesswork about that as of today. Instead, I think it would be best to remind ourselves of a few things we can do over the next few weeks or months to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically for these challenging times. I would like to give my readers out there some advice which has helped me so far in terms of moving forward with my day-to-day activities and also the larger goals that I have for myself.

  1. Take Care of Your Friends and Family: Now is the time to be there for your family and close friends in any way that you can. Even if you are not in the same city or in the same country, take some time out of your day to call or message them to see how they are doing. If you can do so, try to help around the apartment or house with cooking, cleaning, running errands, etc. This is a time to be close to the ones you love and to be there for them.

Remote work and schooling are important and should be a priority, but you should not forget to make time for those around you and to check in on them. Given how much running around you could be doing, you will likely have more time to reach out to loved ones and really take the time to engage in conversation or have dinner together or just to FaceTime every night before bed. I think it is the #1 priority right now to have during this difficult time.

  1. Look for New Opportunities: Obviously, this is a hard time both employment wise and financially. If you have to find a new job or a new opportunity, do your best to be prepared to find those jobs and work opportunities even if they are not ideal for your long-term career pursuits. In a time like this, it would be best to swallow your pride and expand your availability for jobs that will be coming down the pipeline. You have to do what you have to do within reason to keep the lights on and feed your family. It may be working to stock shelves to delivering groceries or to work as a receptionist but if it comes with health insurance and a decent wage, it may be in your best interest to take that opportunity at least for a few months.

Nothing is permanent and even if it is not a job you want to be doing, consider it a way to build up your resilience and to be helping others especially if the job calls for it. The wider you broaden the search, the better off you will be. You just want to make sure you polish off your resume and your cover letter to update it after a gap of some time.

  1. Be Kind to Others: People are stressed out and worried. You have to act like that is currently the situation and give others the benefit of the doubt. You don’t know what is going on in their lives during this crisis and it’s not something you should be asking about. Be respectful, patient, and kind. Don’t be demanding, rude, or just overall a bad person to others. There is such a thing as karma, and it can accrue in both good and bad ways especially now. I do believe that you should treat others the way you would want to be treated and that is how you should approach life under quarantine.

Tempers can flare with ease and things can get out of control so just be aware of your emotions, realize that nothing is worth a verbal or physical confrontation over (especially toilet paper), and always remember to say please and thank you. It does not cost anything to be nice and you should always leave the house if you have to now with that in mind. Good manners will always help you get through a crisis like that.

  1. Volunteer and Donate If You Can: This is only a suggestion but this is the time to give blood if you are eligible, donate extra food and clothes to those organizations who need it and can vouch as to where the money is going, and also see if you can deliver groceries if you have free time. It should go without saying that you should only be volunteering in public if you have a clean bill of health and have not been traveling overseas in the past two weeks. I have seen numerous remote volunteering opportunities pop up in the past week include video conferencing with senior citizens and asking as a pen-pal for them as they stay secluded at home and could use a friend.

Get together with some friends and put together a spreadsheet of organizations / places in your local town or city that are asking for monetary donations or for food/clothing/supplies, etc. It is a misconception that you need to leave the house to donate or to volunteer. In a time like this, sometimes, people especially the elderly or the solitary just could use someone to talk to or listen to them. I have heard stories of mental health professionals volunteering their time for free to help those people in need and that warms my heart quite a bit. If you are not completely healthy and/or free of symptoms, you should not be volunteering outside of the house!

  1. Stay Home and Wash Your Hands: This advice should go without saying by now, but it should be repeated that you should not be leaving your home unless your job requires it or if you need to pick up groceries or go to the pharmacy. I try not to compulsively wash my hands but it’s better to overdo it than under-do it so make sure you sing the ‘happy birthday’ song twice and use enough soap for the 20 seconds it takes to wash your hands.

If you can go for a walk on your own, it is great to get some fresh air even if it is just around the block. You will need some sunlight (vitamin D) and as long as you maintain your social distancing of 2 meters (six feet), there’s nothing wrong with walking for 10-15 minutes to clear your head and shake off the inevitable cabin fever.

  1. Cleaning, Cooking, and Organizing: A good way to avoid being lethargic during this time is to occupy yourself away from work and/or school by keeping things neat, tidy, or clean in the house or apartment where you reside. Daily tasks like cooking meals, cleaning your room, or organizing your papers will definitely keep you busy. Currently, it’s ‘Spring cleaning’ season so you will have your work cut out for you these next few quarantined weeks if you have not cleaned your place since the beginning of the wintertime.

Who knows? If you found extra items or clothes around during cleanup time, you could perhaps donate them when you’re finished collecting all those things you may not need but may help out somebody else during this tough time. With restaurants closed for the time being and delivery every day an expensive proposition, now is the best time to crack open your old recipe book and take your cooking more seriously.

You may be able to eat healthier now more than ever with the added time to cook and prepare your meals in advance and it is a good way to bond if you have a family or a loved one with you. Organizing extends to your personal computer and devices as well to make sure your files, bills, and documents are in order. Don’t forget to take the time to give your phone, tablet, or laptop a good cleaning too because it is a germ magnet and it would be wise to keep it clean as much as possible.

  1. Get Some Exercise In: Gyms and fitness centers are closed. No more pools, saunas, or even Yoga classes. So, what do you do now? Well, it can be easy to give up on your fitness goals but luckily, we have the Internet and delivery services are still working. You can utilize both to keep working out as there are hundreds of home workout exercises and guides out there now. Most of the information is free to use and easily accessible especially with YouTube videos showing you exactly how to do these exercises.

I believe you don’t need much to do these workouts as most of them can be done just with your bodyweight when it comes to pull-ups, sit-ups, pushups, squats, crunches, etc. If you can spend the money, it doesn’t hurt to get some free weights or some barbells in order to add some weight to your exercises. You can also get creative by doing some Yoga and Meditation with just a simple mat.

Due to the Internet, you can look up practically anything fitness related to create a good 30 to 45-minute workout. As if that wasn’t enough, you can always use your body to move quickly with sprints, hill runs, jogs, or a brisk walk if you can get out of the house for a bit. It won’t be the same as going to a physical gym, which has a ton of equipment and a sauna or other great amenities but it’s better than nothing and it is relatively easy to make the most of it.

  1. Flex Your Creative Muscle: If you have some extra time on your hands now, put it to good use by being creative. Sit down and figure out how best you want to pass the time in a productive way. Perhaps you can learn an instrument, pick up a new language, or even write an eBook or an entire book. Harness that energy into action to make the most of your time spent indoors and without most of the distractions that we have in our normal daily lives.

In the next weeks and months, I am positive that there will be an absolute growth in creative pursuits, both online and offline. There are a number of skills and traits that you can work on almost always for free or if you spend money, it is likely be a worthwhile investment from the right teacher. It is also a great time to develop that business idea or side hustle you have been thinking about but never actually committed to. You can always bounce these ideas off your family and friends or if you are able to do so, try to find like-minded people through your network or your organizations to see what they think of your idea and if it has some potential.

Isaac Newton, for example, worked day and night, when a great plague was spreading around the world and due to the time he had to just sit, learn, and experiment, he was able to come up with the brilliant equations and inventions that helped invent the modern life that we have today. Even if you fail, it is better to have tried and done your best than to have wondered later on, what if?

We will all get through this difficult time. It will be a tragic time in human history, but you will be a stronger and more compassionate person at the other end of this pandemic. There are often things in life that happen that are out of our control. It sucks and it is demoralizing but you have to move on, move forward, and keep on moving. We have no choice but to move on and to make the most of the time that we are given. We owe it to ourselves, our family, and our community to be the best that we can be especially now. I hope you take this difficult time to be caring, be kind, and be productive. I wish you well and hope you are well.