1. Try to have conversations with people you casually meet in everyday life. Find out the name of the woman you see all the time at the grocery store and engage her. You can have small talk or unexpectedly talk about the big things. I once ended up having a three-hour conversation with the girl who worked the cashier at the thrift store I went to all the time. Not only did I fill my afternoon in an unexpected way, but I also made a friend out of it.
2. Remind people in your life how much they love you and mean to you. You don’t have to get super gushy all the time or reenact a James L. Brooks screenplay. Just give back to the people who give to you.
3. Text people back right away. I know we all like to pretend we’re so cool and busy, but who doesn’t love to know, in a small way, that the person on the other end of the phone is fully engaging with you?
4. Ask yourself how you can be a better friend to people or better support them. Work on making yourself a little more accountable to the people around you. Sometimes this starts by talking less and listening more or being our more authentic selves with those around us.
5. Get up early. It’s a whole lot easier to take the day by storm if you grab it by the circadian cojones.
6. Smile more and laugh more. You don’t have to smile all the time — because that’s called “When I Was on Lithium” — but you should always seek more opportunities for humor and laughter in your life. Be aware of the joy that’s already around you, and if all you see is pain, transform it into laughter. Transcend it.
7. Do something you didn’t think you could or always wanted to do. When I was a kid, I always wanted to be an artist, but I found out the hard way I couldn’t paint or draw. (My human hands look like mashed potato flowers.) But over the grad school break, I found something art-related I could do with my downtime: cut stuff out. I decorated my house in crossword puzzle collages, dirty Mad Libs and made pages from a beat-up John Updike book into wallpaper. It wasn’t the greatest art that’s ever been art-ed, but it was fun and my DIY saved me a whole lot on decoration.
8. Learn how to apologize. I think there’s nothing that makes us more beautifully human than making mistakes and owning up to them, whether it’s not being the best friend you can be or accidentally bumping into someone on the train. But we should be more aware of our effects on other people and hold ourselves more accountable to being a force for good in the world.
9. Let go of our anger, envy and hatred. This is a hard one for me. I have this certain Facebook friend of mine (who I unfortunately can’t delete) that I loathe with the fire of a thousand suns, and it used to kill me whenever something good happened for him. I would transform from the gorgeous, hyper-literate vixen you see before you into a swear-spouting mean girl. But you know what I did? Blocked him from my news feed. Ain’t nobody got time to obsess over other people’s accomplishments. Go out and accomplish your own crap instead.
10. Don’t use your iPod all the time. I think there might be an automatic genetic reflex that leads us to plug into our headphones as soon as we leave our houses, and while music is great (and my boyfriend), we sometimes lack awareness when we’re so focused on Frank Ocean. We lose one of our senses and become less present to the world around us. Next time you go for a walk or ride the train, let Frank rest for a second and listen to the soundtrack of the world around you. The world makes such beautiful music.
11. Complain less and make fewer excuses for yourself. Learn to enjoy your life and not always focus on what is bad, what is wrong and why you can’t or didn’t do something. Have you seen Parks and Recreation? Chris Traeger is kind of my life model, except for that part where he got weird and sad. You don’t have to ignore the dark side of life, which (as Chris shows) might make things worse in the long run. You just don’t have to live there either.
12. Do something nice for someone else — the kind of favor you might not see returned. One of my resolutions this year was to try to do Random Acts of Kindness for people every day — to let people sit down before me on the train, actually give the homeless guy a quarter rather than lying (not because I think it’ll make a difference, but because he’s a person whose humanity deserves recognition), hold doors open for people and a lot of cliché things that aren’t that interesting. It might not affect others’ lives, but these things are a daily reminder to me that I’m not the most important person in the world, and I should continually try to be of service to others, even if that’s just letting them go first.
13. Give someone a completely unsolicited compliment. During my sophomore year of college, I sat next to a girl who scared the crap out of me. She was beautiful, confident and one of the smartest people I’d ever met, one of those people who walks into class like they mean business. She didn’t talk to anyone, really, because she came to learn; she didn’t come here to make friends. But she was so interesting, and I knew I wanted to get to know this girl. So I made sure to compliment or say something nice every chance I could, knowing that one of those could lead to a real conversation and the intellectual pickle jar being opened. And wouldn’t you know it? We were close friends by the end of the year.
14. Do something completely unexpected or spontaneous, even if it’s as simple as getting a new haircut. To use an extreme example, I recently found out that my friend’s mom went skydiving a couple years ago — because she had a Groupon for it and why not? I couldn’t picture this tiny den mother of love (who looks like the mom in That 70’s Show) throwing herself toward the earth like a meteor. But more than being concerned for her safety, I was immediately jealous. Who knew she was such a badass?
15. Try something new — just for the experience. Whenever I go out to a restaurant, I try to get the bizarrest thing on the menu. I decided to start doing this four years ago, when I realized that I was only eating bland foods. I wasn’t challenging my palate. So, now when I eat out, I always pick something that sounds gross or interesting — like tripe, lengua, chitlins, pork skin, eel or squid. Sometimes this works out — like when I found out alligator tastes like chicken, but better — or not so much — like when I found out chicken gizzard tastes like chicken, except that it doesn’t at all. It’s like chewing on an eraser. As Mom said, you’ll never know if you like something until you try it.