Hi Ethan and Holly,
Get some tea, guys. Find a comfortable place to sit. Settle in. This letter is serious business, and a couch and a cuppa tends to help when you’re thinking about important matters.
Let’s get going.
This letter is about happiness. Yes, that’s serious business! It’s also about living well — just being a good person, you know? — because a good life is more likely to be a happy one.
Life is hard, man. No-one escapes heartache. No-one is happy all the time. No-one has full control over the events that shape them. But happiness is attainable, despite life. Look at your mother and I. We’re happy. And we want that for you.
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.
Below are nuggets of wisdom. They are idealistic for sure. Failing to live by these “standards” — as we do — doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Does that make sense? Also, bear in mind that these maxims are our wisdom, gained from our experiences, which means, of course, that it may be folly for you. Still, we think this collection is a decent foundation to build upon, a useful starting point.
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 chat with us.
So, here we go. Let’s start with some philosophy…
How To Think
Question everything. Opinions are a dime a dozen, advice is free. Ask yourself, is it wise to believe just anything and everyone, or is it better to trust in what — or who — has proven to be accurate and reliable? The latter, obviously, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing without good reason.
Reject certainty. No-one can be absolutely sure of anything. It’s dishonest, narrow-minded, and dangerous to dogmatically believe in the truth or falsehood of something. Be humble; there can be joy in discovering that you’re wrong; it means you’ve learned something.
Strive to be informed. Make it an ambition to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. Be vigilant, do research, and think for yourself so that your beliefs — and therefore your actions — are informed; the alternative is more likely to cause grief.
Change your mind. Be courageous and change your opinions with new information.
Reserve judgement. It’s good to say, “I don’t know,” when you don’t. Follow that by saying let’s go find out!
Be good for good’s sake. The following two “rules” will get you far: treat others like you want them to treat you, and do what you want — provided that all parties involved are informed and have given their consent.
Be generous and 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.
Assign value. 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 LGBTQA, rich or poor… Bend this rule for family and friends; they deserve to be valued most of all.
Be truthful and open. Juggling dishonesty is hard work and it’s 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.
Respect women. This is for you Ethan. Unfortunately, we live in a world where men are unjustly privileged and where women are often not respected. Women are your equal.
Resist doing bad things. You’d be surprised how tempting it is. 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.
Action and Failure
Make decisions. Be bold and courageous. Act when reasonable.
Embrace failure. We all fail, even the best of us. You might as well make peace with that fact. Fail fast, learn, and try not to repeat the same mistake.
Family, Friends, and Others
Do stuff with people. Experiences shared with others are greater than experiences kept to yourself.
Seek out like-minded people. No matter how unique, weird, or ordinary you think you are, odds are that there are people very much like you. Did you think you were special?
Seek out people with whom you disagree. They will sharpen your views and keep you in check. An echo chamber of people who congratulate themselves for being and thinking the same, while comfortable, will lead to stagnation and unoriginal thought.
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.
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.
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 yourself. Avoid wearing a mask; it’s exhausting and swiftly leads to self-loathing. This is especially pertinent when you are in a relationship with someone.
Do what you love if you can. 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.
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.
Work hard. The pay-offs are worth it and satisfying. Avoid long periods of stress; it’s a killer.
Explore your sexuality. Sex is natural and good. So good. Remember that people are wired in many different ways. Explore your likes and dislikes, and understand that, unless you’re causing harm, you have nothing to be ashamed about.
Be responsible. Use contraception and protection.
Ask for consent. Look up the Tea Consent analogy.
Respect your partner(s). Having sex is meaningful, even if it’s just for fun. There are powerful emotions connected with sex and sexuality so treat people with respect.
Communicate. Seriously, talk about everything. I like when you touch me here and like this. I don’t really like when you do that. Does this feel good? Do you mind if I touch you here? Like this? Show me. Consider your partner(s) just as much as you consider yourself; you may do well to consider them more.
Society and Politics
Treat free speech as sacred. Respect each person’s right to have and to voice an opinion. That doesn’t mean you have to respect the opinion itself. 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.
Be informed. 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.
Be interested in politics and take part. Vote! Study the different forms of government, their philosophies, principals and policies. Brush up on history. Be mindful of world events. Have opinions.
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.
Exercise. It makes you feel good; it makes you look good; people respond positively to that, shallow as that may seem.
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. Our beautiful planet is full of wonders, and there is much to learn from other cultures. Virtual experiences do not compare to the real thing, so go explore!
Be creative. 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 the arts. Enjoy music and visual media of all genres. They are not without benefit, and worthy pursuits in their own right.
Relax. It’s important to chill out. Make sure you sleep enough.
Be balanced. Try to spend as much time outdoors as you do indoors.
Be alone when you want to. You are not obliged to do things for or with other people if you don’t feel like it. It’s okay to be selfish and spend time with yourself.
Bits and Bobs
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.
Be a good parent (if one day you have kids). 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.
Laugh. It cures many ailments.
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.
A concluding thought: when you were babies, we received advice from everyone 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.
Your awesome parents