How to be happier in your thirties

Because you probably weren’t that happy in your twenties.

Be happier, no couch required!
  1. Quit Facebook.

I know this is a controversial suggestion, but hear me out.

I was a college student, roughly the same age as Mark Zuckerberg, when Facebook became A Thing. Initially, I made a half-hearted attempt to join in on the fun, but ultimately didn’t get it. A decade later, I still don’t.

While I’m ambivalent about the value of social media overall, Facebook seems to be a particular source of discontent for people my age. The human heart (or, more accurately, limbic system) is prone to bitterness, jealousy and anger. As grown ups, we’re supposed to be too mature to default to these basic emotions. But Facebook saturates us in a 24-hour loop of pictures of fun times we couldn’t make it to, updates about past lovers we’d prefer to forget, and passive aggressive comments from relatives that should be contained to Thanksgiving and Christmas. The opportunity is always there to slip into emotional experiences that undermine our satisfaction with our own lives.

I’m hardly the first person to make this observation. But I’m surprised that my fellow social media skeptics almost always fail to make a simple recommendation that, to me, seems so obvious: quit. Or at least, quit for a while and see how it feels. Whatever you like about Facebook is available elsewhere, and with the time you’re not using to scroll through your feed, you can connect with friends and family in more personal ways. Like by texting them, for example.

2. Stop dieting.

I speak from extensive personal experience — after spending 15 good years of my life trying every diet known to woman — that dieting is unhealthy for your body and mind, ineffective, and completely counterproductive to living a happy life.

Eat food that makes you feel strong and energetic, move your body in ways that you enjoy, and whatever you do, don’t count (calories, carbs, steps, etc.).

3. Stop making unhelpful, critical observations of others (at least out loud).

For most of us, the days are fast and chaotic. It’s easy to let fatigue, busyness, or impatience breed critical thoughts about others. It’s also easy to let those critical thoughts become careless, critical words.

Letting these words slip out might seem harmless in the moment, especially if the person they’re directed at is out of earshot. But this, I think, is a mistake. It’s commonly assumed that our thoughts become our our words, but the older I get, the more I’ve noticed that the opposite is equally true. The words we say out loud have a curious way of becoming a roadmap for the thoughts we think. And the thoughts we think make us the people we are.

If you want to be a happier person, stop saying unhelpful, critical things about others. Over time, you’ll notice that this sets in motion a virtuous cycle — you’ll say fewer negative things, and feel more kind. The kinder you feel, the fewer negative thoughts you’ll think. And the fewer negative thoughts you think, the kinder and happier you’ll actually be.

4. Make a habit of giving others the benefit of the doubt.

Humans are complicated, emotional creatures. Our experiences, relationships, genetics, environments, schedules, sleep habits, and blood sugar levels shape how we’ll react to situations from moment to moment, day to day.

Given all these variables, it’s too exhausting to assume that those around you have anything but good intentions. Give your friends, family and coworkers the benefit of the doubt if they hurt or offend you — they probably didn’t mean to. Try to understand them, consider their perspectives, and give them an opportunity to apologize.

This approach has a dual benefit: We think better of our fellow humans, and also teach them how to treat us by example. #win-win

5. Find internal sources of self esteem.

Despite the crippling self-doubt many of us feel in our teens and twenties, there are actually lots of opportunities to shore up our self esteem. Getting an “A” in a tough class, getting into a competitive graduate program, getting a first promotion or big raise — these milestones make us feel good about ourselves, validate us.

But the trouble is, all of that is external. Someone or something else is making us feel worthy, by recognizing our hard work with tangible rewards. When you hit your thirties, a lot of these external sources of self esteem dry up, or at the very least, become less meaningful. Getting your first big promotion is a big deal, but by third time, it doesn’t have the same effect on the psyche anymore.

So the challenge becomes finding ways feel good about who you are based solely on…who you are. Instead of getting a rush of self esteem from a good grade, we have to get that rush from speaking a kind word, volunteering our time to the service of others, or creating something that makes us feel proud — even if no one else sees what we’ve made.

Building ourselves up from the inside is difficult. It takes care, practice, and self awareness. But the benefit is distinct: When you spend time and energy doing things that make you feel intrinsically good, no one can snuff that out. Lose your job? That’s disruptive, but it doesn’t cut into your gut as deeply if your job isn’t your only source of self worth.

Bottom line: It’s untenable to pin your self esteem on stuff that’s ephemeral, like jobs, boyfriends, apartments and the like. Again, I speak from extensive personal experience.

Live and learn, amirite?