How to be 27 years old and happy

'While We're Young' Dancing

Happy birthday to me! My body and mind have somehow survived to the wisdom-soaked and wine-marinated age of 27. Sure, last night I had a moment when I freaked the fuck out about my quickly shrinking “viable reproductive years,” but other than that I feel pretty damn fine about who and where I am. As a self-diagnosed narcissist, I can tell you there is no day I love more than the one that is dedicated to paying homage to me. However, as a professionally-diagnosed anxious pile of depression, I can also let you know that these days can quickly take a turn for the dark. I mean the very, very dark.

As a means of deterring that slide into self-loathing and shit-talking, I decided to make myself a little list of all of the things that make me happy. Yeah, you heard me right; I just said that I — a 20-something, white, middle-class American woman — can tell you, without sarcasm, that I am happy. And while yes, these antidepressants are extended release, I honestly feel like I came to this happiness by my own accord.

For all of my haters out there, let me first tell you this: I am well aware that the world is a sad, cruel, racist, sexist, hungry, obese, violent, and complacent place. I hate that so many people don’t get to even think about what would make them happy because they only have time to think about what will keep them alive. But my life is a life of privilege. It is the one I was born into and it required very few decisions to ensure it stayed that way. Though my life might not represent the terrible inequities in our world, I want to make sure I use it to support those whose lives do. Being happy is one way to make that a reality.

God doesn’t go to my church, but I sure as shit do!
One thing that makes me so damn happy is going to a Unitarian Universalist church and being a part of a community. Nothing, I repeat, nothing is harder than convincing your hungover ass to make it to 11:30 a.m. services on the one day you get to sleep in and eat brunch for four hours. However, giving yourself some time to be quiet and surrounded by people who want the same things for the world is very important. Let go of all the bullshit religion that has been haunting you since the summer of ’94’s vacation bible school. You owe it to yourself to find some spiritual strength within yourself and not be afraid of it.

You’re gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it.
This time last year I had hair that was competing with my bras for best nipple coverage. Now, my longest piece of hair might be an inch long. My arms are about 30 percent more covered in tattoos and I wear glasses like they help me see or something. There is value in changing the way you look; it makes you interact with yourself and others differently. For me, it freed me from worrying about who the world thought I was. I felt like I constantly had to defend my image, constantly show people that I could be more than their assumptions. Strangely enough, it was my own assumptions about who I was that got in my way the most. Nothing has allowed me more grace in dealing with my internal insecurities than realizing that it is me who has control over my appearance.

I keep falling in love with you.
I’m pretty terrible at relationships, but I am so damn good at falling in love. I attempted to swear them off this past year, which, of course, resulted in me falling harder and deeper and faster in love with more people. At first I was angry at myself. I thought this was a sign of a weak resolve and a lack of self-control. Honestly, I’m still trying to work my way through this. At this point, I’m ready to let go of my white-knuckle grip on the reins of my love life. If this means I keep falling in love and making more messes, I am going to try to be OK with that. I’m also going to continue to resist the urge of getting a Tinder.

Job well done.
I love my job. It fills me with purpose, requires me to grow, and doesn’t make me cry in public due to overstress. (Ahem. Looking at you, last job!) I like the people I work with and I love the community I work in. For a long time, I thought the key to having a job you love is to look for a career that allows you to help people. I soon realized that nearly every job — politicians, pimps, people who put you on hold constantly — can be seen as “helping people.” The real way to measure how much I love my job is to see if the work I am doing is instigating change where I live. The feeling of seeing your energy turn into someone else’s opportunity is what keeps me going every day. That and a really nice retirement package.

Be more than your profile.
I know that I just told you I’m finding joy in my marital status and employment, but now I want to suggest that these are not the things that result in my ultimate happiness. I want you to just accept this and not roll your eyes. When you meet people, they’ll ask you where you work and who you sleep with (hopefully in a more tactful way than that). You, being a polite human, will answer them. But, darling, if all I amounted to was what is on my business card and my ring finger, I would never feel a moment of true happiness. Do the things that make you feel authentic. Volunteer. Ride your bike. Hell, I don’t know — write for a local online magazine. People should know you for your fascinating complexities, not your two or three easily accessible identifiers.

Pay attention to the people who love you well
As Pitbull says, and I think he is referring to oral sex here so don’t read into it too much, “I didn’t go to church, but I got ‘blessed.’” This is how I feel about the people in my life. Not only do they love me, but they love me so well. They support my notions and laugh at my whims. They take the time to heal me when I am hurting. They enjoy my fart jokes and still let me spend the night when I am too sad to be alone. People love you best when you love them back. It’s so simple, but 27 years on this continually warming rock has proven to me time and time again that love will come back to you if you keep giving it away like branded beer koozies at a music festival.