To Ethan and Holly,
We’ve watched you grow into brilliant young adults, and that’s been a source of great joy and pride. In a couple of years, you’ll be sufficiently equipped to cast off and explore this extraordinary life by yourself. But for now, while you are safely anchored in our harbour, there is still time to prepare for your journey.
This letter has evolved over hundreds of millions of seconds. At its inception, you, Ethan, were four years old, and Holly, you had just turned one. How quickly time passes! We wrote the ancestor to these words because we realised that we had to consolidate the principles, beyond the obvious, that we thought were important to impart to you. You will recognise—we hope!—much of what is said here… Think of this as a reference guide. They are useful, aren’t they?
Our greatest hope for you—any good parent’s hope—is that you will live a happy life, and that is the theme of this letter. Happiness.
The principal is simple: find the things that make you happy, and pursue them. But you’d be surprised at how tough the finding can be and how much work the pursuing can take. To complicate matters further, the things that make you happy can, and likely will, change over time. Some things you may choose to trade—reluctantly, at times—for the sake of gaining better ones, and others you will desire—certain in the knowledge that it will increase your happiness—but you’ll feel too intimidated or lazy to hunt them down.
The business of happiness is largely in your control. Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts that will help.
Question everything. Don’t believe all that you hear, and don’t just follow any advice. Do research and investigate. Think for yourself and be discerning. Trust only in what—or who—has proven to be accurate and reliable. No, the irony is not lost on us; you would do well to apply this guideline to this letter.
Reject the slippery-slope notion of absolute certainty. It’s dishonest, narrow-minded, and dangerous to believe in the truth or falsehood of something to the extent that you are unwilling to change your mind. Change your opinions with new information, and remember that there is always more to learn.
Don’t be afraid to make decisions. Do your due diligence, but be bold and act when reasonable.
Expect to make mistakes. Don’t plan to fail, but make peace with the fact that you will get it wrong some times. Fail fast, bounce back, and don’t repeat the same mistake. Don’t dwell on failures, other than to learn from them.
Remember that experiences shared are greater than experiences kept to yourself.
Don’t underestimate the seductive nature of selfish behaviour. Sometimes you will know acting in a certain way is wrong, but you’ll want to do it anyway. Resisting temptation in such cases shows character and it’s likely to benefit you and others in the long run.
No matter how unique, weird, or ordinary you think you are, there are always like-minded people to be found. Seek them out.
Laugh. It cures many ailments. Learn to be funny. It makes for an attractive person. Appreciate irony.
Respect older people. They probably have great stories to tell, and you can bet that they have learned something valuable that you don’t know. Remember that you will one day be old and “daft” yourself, and it’ll happen faster than you expect.
Celebrate your youth. Being a grown-up has many perks, but it comes with responsibilities that are often wearying, even when they are rewarding. Youth is fleeting. Cherish it.
If you are a parent one day, follow our example, and then improve upon it. Shower your kids with verbal and physical affection. Accept them. Enjoy them. Mentor them. Set them free.
Be generous and be kind. Selfless acts has the selfish benefit of making you feel good, and that’s okay. Check your intentions to make sure that they are noble, and if they are, enjoy the benefits.
Ethan, respect women, they are your equal.
Value all unconscious things, value conscious beings more, and value humanity most of all. Draw the line there. Assign equal value to all humans, be they from other cultures or your own, religious or non-religious, straight or LGBT, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, man or woman… Bend this rule for family and friends; they deserve to be valued most of all.
Treat free speech as sacred. Respect each person’s right to have and to voice an opinion. That does not mean you have to respect the opinion. Nobody is above criticism, and that includes you. Opinions based on bad ideas, bad beliefs, or bad information must be criticised, especially when it leads to actions of prejudice and harm. Fight ideas or beliefs, but not individuals. Treat people with kindness, grace, respect and understanding, even when your weapon is satire or ridicule.
Admit when you’re wrong.
Explore your sexuality. It is the most natural of things. There are powerful emotions connected with sex and sexuality—especially for girls, but also for boys—so approach it with respect. Having sex is meaningful, even if it’s just for fun. Be responsible and use contraception. Be informed about consent, and communicate with your lover. Lust is a strong emotion and so is the need for intimacy. At a minimum, consider your partner(s) just as much as you consider yourself. You would do well to consider them more—that’s also a good sex tip. Have fun.
Eat healthy. This is a big failing of your daddy. You eat well, you feel well, you live longer. It’s that simple, but it’s oh so hard.
Read. For knowledge. For wisdom. For inspiration. For Fun. Because even if you read for fun, you will gain the first three. Reading will fuel your imagination and enrich your life. Read as much as you possibly can—fiction and non-fiction—and then read more.
Travel. Don’t miss out on the wonders of our beautiful planet. Remember that virtual experiences do not compare to the real thing. Also, there is much to learn from other cultures.
Be a good friend. Believe in people. Extend second chances, and third, and fourth chances. But be wary of friendships that are continually draining. Sometimes, it is necessary to cut ties, but this should be an exception to the rule.
Don’t be afraid or ashamed to say I don’t know. Say so when you don’t, or when you’re unsure. Follow that by saying let’s go find out. Reserve judgement accordingly.
Make it an ambition to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible.
Play a sport. It makes you feel good; it makes you look good.
Explore your creative side; tap into your imagination. Draw, play an instrument, make something with your hands, design something on a computer, act, write, sing. Much joy is to be found in such things.
Appreciate music and visual media of all genres. They are not without benefit, and worthy pursuits in their own right.
Learn to relax. It’s important to chill out. Make sure you sleep enough.
In your personal time, as a rough rule, spend as much time outdoors as you do indoors.
Be sensible with money. Learn how to manage it. Budget. Think about your future, but don’t forget to spoil yourself, or someone else, every now and again.
Make a living out of something that you love and have a passion for, but be sensible. Remember that many passions can be sated outside of work. Find a job that will make you money and that you will enjoy. Money makes life much easier, and it is important. Only pursue a hard-to-make-a-living-profession when it is an all consuming passion. In that case, follow your dreams; money is not that important. Remember, there is no rule that says you can’t change careers.
Work hard. The pay-offs are worth it and satisfying. Avoid long periods of stress; it’s a killer.
Always be yourself. Never wear a mask; it’s exhausting, and swiftly leads to self-loathing. This is especially pertinent when you are in a relationship with someone.
As a base moral guideline, combine the following three rules: treat others like you want them to treat you; don’t treat others like you don’t want them to treat you; do what you want, provided that all parties involved are informed and have given their consent. Individually, each of these rules are fallible, together they are still not perfect, but they do cover a lot of mileage.
Make a study of as many religions as you can. Learn of their origins, beliefs, values and worldviews. Likewise, study the non-religious positions. Learn of their origins, beliefs, values and worldviews.
You cannot choose what you believe or what you do not believe, but if you are informed, your beliefs are more likely to have sound foundations. Strive, then, to be informed, and remember that new information changes the game. Be mindful of bias, and don’t rest on your laurels. Reconsider. Re-evaluate. Repeat.
Take an interest in politics and take part, if only to vote. Study the different forms of government, their philosophies, principals and policies. Don’t be ignorant of history. Be mindful of world events. Have opinions.
Be truthful and open, even when it feels uncomfortable. Juggling dishonesty is hard work and it is likely to end in embarrassment. Even if you successfully pull off a great act, your happiness will be diminished with guilt and that is debilitating.
Be trustworthy and reliable. Just like you should expect people to earn your trust, you should keep your end of the bargain, so that others might believe in you.
Be good for good’s sake.
Finally, embrace all of what it is to be human. You are a rational being. You are an emotional being. You are a physical being. You are a conscious being. And you are capable of wonderful experiences. There are many sources for happiness: friends, family, work, relationships, sex, charity, hobbies, art, contemplation, sport, games, science, argument, philosophy, literature and more. Find the things that make you happy, and pursue them.
It’s not an exhaustive list, but we think it’s a pretty good foundation. We aimed for brevity, so if anything is unclear, or if you’d like to know why we said certain things and not others, we encourage you, as always, to discuss it with us.
A concluding thought: when you were small babies, we received advice aplenty on how to cope with a new-born. Some advice we could reject outright as bad ideas, and some sounded like good ideas, but didn’t work in practice. In the end, through trial and error, we figured out what worked for us, and we trusted in that.