1. You do things when you say you are going to do them.
Once upon a time, you would tell your friend that you would help him move on Saturday. Saturday morning came around, and 8 AM felt way, way earlier than you remembered it feeling, and you texted him last-minute with some bogus story about how you are feeling sick. (Which was technically true, I suppose, you just pickled your own body with vodka shooters and then beat it while it was down with a sack of Taco Bell. That is a kind of sickness, technically.) Either way, you weren’t going to do it.
Today, though, you generally know better than to agree to things when you have no intention of following up on them, and you don’t bail out for incredibly petty reasons when you are inconvenienced. Even when it is early in the morning. No matter how opiate-like the hit of canceling something you don’t feel like doing is, you have generally moved onto the methadone that is not making untenable promises.
2. Your friends make you feel good about yourself.
Long gone are the days you would sacrifice your dignity and self-respect to hang out with someone simply because they had a steady stream of alcohol at their place, or frequent house parties, or an in-ground pool. (True story: I once had a terrible friend whose approval I so desperately wanted because she had an above-ground pool. So you can only imagine the one-two punch that was to my fragile pride.)
You can remember what it feels like to be the uncool one in the friendship, the one who is always reaching out, and the one who ultimately feels like a needy little kid asking for an extra toy in their Happy Meal to a largely indifferent/mildly disdainful cashier. And you have resolved never to be that person again. Your friends nowadays, aside from being people you generally respect and look up to in different ways, make you feel good about yourself, and loved in a way that you used to assume was an exceptional facet of human relationships.
3. You are more confident about setting your own boundaries.
It takes so long for “No” to really mean something. We are ultimately creatures who want to please, and be accepted, and make one another comfortable. We don’t want to be the buzzkill who is like, “No, I am not going to go spend all of my money at the bar for the third weekend in a row. If not participating in these shenanigans means that I am icing myself out of the social circle, that is just a risk I will have to take. Your acceptance is bleeding me dry financially.” It’s not fun to put your foot down on issues of boundaries, but it’s imperative. Otherwise, you risk becoming the person who ends up taking the fall for some kind of organized crime ring because he agreed to one too many things and wound up driving the getaway car without his knowledge.
4. You listen when people talk.
Let’s just admit it: some things are boring to listen to. But if you can force yourself to keep your brain engaged and active when your friend is going on about the shape of her new boyfriend’s face when it gets hit with just the right amount of light through the blinds in the morning, you are doing a good thing. Because ultimately you are going to say plenty of shit that other people find tedious, but an essential part of being a human is feeling listened to and acknowledged and understood. And when you provide that to the people around you with sincerity — even if it takes a little effort — the world is just a little better for it.
5. You don’t yuck people’s yums.
At a certain point, you just kind of say to yourself, “Okay, this clearly isn’t my cup of tea, but its existence doesn’t make my own cup of tea any less delicious. So whatever.” And the world becomes an infinitely more magical place to live in.
6. You are happy for other people’s achievements.
There are always going to be moments of seeing someone you’ve never really liked succeed and feeling like, “Why, God, when I have toiled so much harder and more purely for the fruits of your generosity?” before ritualistically sacrificing livestock in front of their Facebook profile. They’re almost instinctual, and in many ways serve to light a fire under your own ass to do something great and fulfilling with your life. It happens.
But the active goal is moving towards a place of benevolent support for all those around you, even the ones who are always humblebragging about their various achievements. The point is that you are happy to see other people be happy, and happy to know that there is more joy and excitement and fulfillment in the world. And especially when it happens to people you like, you can take the immense pride in being that cheerleader who gets to rah-rah the emotional pom poms from the sidelines and be like “I always believed in you, little buddy, and now you have arrived. You’re like Drake, except you didn’t start on Degrassi and pretend that that was somehow anyone’s version of ‘bottom.’ I’m proud of you.”
7. You see love everywhere.
Rom coms and love songs and greeting cards are a kind of pollution — a fog cast over our innate knowledge of what is and isn’t love — and eventually you just break the spell. You realize that love isn’t narrowly defined by the point in your life when a Ryan Gosling stand-in is sweeping you off your feet and taking you to a reasonably-priced steak dinner in a scenic area of town. It is your friends, your family, the cashier at your grocery store who always asks you how you are and means it, your dog, the strangers who hold the door for you, and the kind things people do when they think no one is looking. When you become that sponge who is always soaking up the love that surrounds them, and choosing to amplify it, and never confusing “single” for “alone,” that is when you are a better person. Because that shit radiates off of you like sunlight, and everyone is trying to get a tan off your happiness.