How to be Better and Happier in 2020 and Beyond

can you tell this is sheer impulse?

Clickbait title, this is about me, not you, I’m sorry. But bear with me for a little bit, because the entire point of this post is for you to read it. I don’t like writing about myself. It calls for vulnerability, sincerity, and courage, none of which I have; I also can’t imagine my personal life as a 20-something hipster with a blog being all that interesting to my readership’s demographic, 20-something hipsters with blogs. Yet here I am, writing more or less exclusively about myself; you may be able to extrapolate a couple of useful self-help tips out of this one, but no promises. I fully expect this post to be boring, except to maybe the 5-10 friends or family members of mine who will read this— they’ll probably find this revealing, if also characteristically self-indulgent, to which I respond: it absolutely is. That’s the point.

Over the past ten years I’ve gone from being ten years old to being twenty years old; along the way I picked up things such as the ability to write well, passable social skills, impenetrable bitterness, irony poisoning, and friends. Overall, a decent decade, if probably not a very important one. Now I’m like an adult and, in theory, over this next one I’ll make for myself some semblance of a career, ideally money, a general sense of place in life, maybe even a family. And if not, I’d still like myself to be better and happier. I’d also like to be a better family member to my family, a better friend to my friends, a better boyfriend to my girlfriend. Stuff which—if I look at how I spend my time and generally treat myself, at the moment—I will probably not achieve, or on the off chance I do, will probably fuck up.

Probably the most characteristic-of-myself thing that happened this decade was the time I sat down and wrote an essay about Kanye West I was really proud of; posted it here and tweeted it to my 20 followers; and woke up the next day to hundreds of notifications, thousands of pageviews, and a fatal overdose of narcissistic validation. And then proceeded for the next four months to do absolutely nothing about it. 

I try to avoid thinking about where I’d be now had I churned out even a couple more posts that were as good as that one. I’ve started a bunch of drafts since then but I haven’t finished a single one. Some shitty cocktail of laziness and angst has relegated two potentially excellent essays on weed (it’s bad for you) and the online rationalist community (I dislike it), among many others not yet that well-thought-out, to the Google Drive graveyard. This is stupid, and everyone is worse off because of it. I miss the opportunity to fuel my ego some more; people out there who enjoy my writing that I now know exist miss the chance to read more of it; I diminish the odds that I can turn writing into something lucrative enough for me to avoid grad school and spending the rest of my youth on kratom doing /lit/ threads on Barthes.

My biggest motivator in life is the prospect of narcissistic injury. This is by no means a good thing, or exclusive to me, but if we’re being honest I’ve really taken it to heart, so I may as well put it to work. What’s interesting is how it works both ways, and has to be part of the reason I haven’t posted anything in so long: the mission’s already accomplished, at least according to my ego. I wrote an essay, it was good, people liked it, and now I’m a card-carrying “good writer.” To write another one and risk it falling short in critical or viral response would risk revoking my membership; “good writers” do not write “bad essays” or “essays no one actually read.” Nor are they “one-hit-wonders.” 

But I do not want to be a “good writer.” And I don’t even (strictly) want to be a good writer. In fact if we’re still being honest I think I already am a no-scare-quotes good writer, and that (itself) does absolutely nothing for me at all. Stop reading this right now and read this article on (seriously) from 2012 (I swear) instead. The idea that no one cares what you “are” — that they only care about what you “do” — is the only valuable piece of self-help advice on the planet.1 And besides, way more than “being” anything like that, I want to “have” stuff I was talking about above: security, intimacy, happiness. I’m no life coach but I know these things are not achieved by being a “good writer,” or by being a good writer; the latter can be a means to these ends, but it’s just that, and it’s also not the only one.

I also have to treat my health better. Go outside more. Call my mom. Communicate better in all of my relationships, but particularly with my girlfriend, because I love her and I would like to treat her the way she deserves; that’s to say, better than I could ever give, so, I’m working on it.

I also have to spend less time consuming and more time producing—producing anything, because I think it’s agreeable enough that consuming (drugs, entertainment, porn, junk food, whatever) generally leans “bad,” and producing (writing, painting, cooking, sex, whatever) generally leans “good.” None of these things are necessarily more important than another. And although I think achieving one probably makes achieving all the others that much easier, it’s probably hard to do all of them at once. No one’s perfect. Etc. I’d just like to put myself on an upward trajectory, that’s all.

I’m home right now, on winter break, doing nothing besides think, because what else is there to do. Here’s what I’ve concluded. In the more fundamental ways, my last semester at school sucked: it was my all-time worst in terms of stuff like sleeping well, eating properly, exercising enough. I’ve never been particularly good at any of these but over the past few months I really dropped the ball. I said earlier that my biggest motivator is the risk of narcissistic injury. I also said this post is self-indulgent. Here’s why: I’m not letting myself do those things again. The rest of this post will be a list of things that I will do this year in order to be better to myself and everyone around me. They are likely of little-to-no interest to you. But they are of great interest to me, and everyone around me, and so I am writing them down in public here, for everyone to see, so that if in 2021 they’re not at least nominally achieved/improved upon I will feel shame i.e. narcissist kryptonite. The idea being, obviously, that there will be no need for that, and 365 days from now and for the rest of the decade and the rest of my life I will have become the Man I Have Always Wanted to Be. Is it likely? Hard to say. Worth trying? If you have to ask…

AT LEAST one blog post per month. There are innumerable reasons why I haven’t posted anything in so long; some valid, most not, doesn’t matter. No excuses, one post a month is nothing. This should be easy; I have a huge list of topics in my notes and I can usually crank out 1500-2000 quality words in a day or two, which I’ve found to be the best way to get these done. If I am genuinely short on fleshed-out ideas I will do 200 words on a book or article I enjoyed or something like that. No excuses, one a month. Hopefully many more.

MEDITATION. I have come to accept that meditation is not hippie bullshit and is, in fact, almost certainly really, really good for you, even in tiny doses. 10 minutes per day minimum of mindfulness meditation, preferably first thing in the morning, every single day of 2020.

WEED. I like smoking weed because it makes me feel good; as it turns out, feeling good actually makes you feel pretty bad. No more smoking it except on rare, social occasions. Period. This will also significantly help with the next two, and at least a little bit with all the others. I’m gonna finish that essay about weed, too, eventually, so keep an eye out.

SLEEP. Six hours a night bare minimum, hopefully seven, ideally eight. Never more than ten. My whole life up until this year I laid claim to pretty solid sleeping habits, and now, having lost them for a while and then nearly my mind, I am aware of how much I need them back.

FOOD. I’m not exactly sure how to put a concrete goal on this one, but god help me I’m going to eat more and healthier this year. I look ridiculous! I’m gonna eat a salad. And get much better at cooking. And do my dishes right after I use them.

EXERCISE. In the pursuit of not leapfrogging a healthy weight: gym, twice a week, minimum. I used to really enjoy lap-swimming as a kid, and was even pretty good at it, too. The gym at my school has a pool. I’d really like to get into that again. (p.s. editor/co-blogger Tom has agreed to come with me, and he won’t know I added that here until he reads this final draft on the website, haha)

RELATIONSHIPS. Ok, this one stays somewhat confidential, for obvious reasons. On the whole I know what I need to do to be better to the people I love, so I’m going to start doing them.

NOVEL. I have previously written ~20,000 words of a novel that may or may not have some potential. By the end of this year I will have some sort of finished draft that I am happy with, and will have decided whether to edit and attempt to publish it, or scrap it and start over on something new. To this end I will be writing or editing at least 500 words of the novel every single day, separate from any quotas I have for the blog or anything else.

THE INTERNET is largely a waste of my time and I will stop using it so much. If I think about the time I’ve spent on like Twitter and imagine that I instead spent it reading books I become sad, obviously, like everyone should. When I recall that platforms like Reddit and Twitter and YouTube are very carefully engineered to extract all of my dopamine and convert it into some Silicon Valley VC’s seventh Ferrari, I understand Ted Kaczynski. 

I may update this with more goals as the year goes by, or make progress reports, or come back to say that I was wrong about everything; who knows. But I want to try something new, and here it is. Aside from that, thanks a lot to readers for reading my writing. I sincerely appreciate it. Expect to see much more this year. Everyone else (those whom I know personally), I’m sorry/thanks for putting up with my shit, expect much less of it this year. Also, I encourage everyone to do something similar to this and make all of their resolutions public, because frankly I’m terrified, and now think I might actually go do all of the things I’ve always said I was going to do. Happy New Year.

  1. The author also cites a series of essays by the retired blogger thelastpsychiatrist called Hipsters on Food Stamps, a flat-out genius sequence of essays that you should go read night now; TLP is coincidentally also behind the only other self-help article I’ll ever recommend to people I respect. Just do yourself a favor and read everything he’s ever written, as long as you’re there.


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