How To Be Happier: Teenager Edition

This is an example essay I wrote for my AP Language class when they were assigned a Process Analysis. If it’s a little on the nose, well — it’s for teenagers.


How To Be Happier

Are you dissatisfied with your life?

You’re teenagers. Of course you are.

But that’s the bad news. (Okay, it’s probably not news. But how would you know? When was the last time you actually watched the news? I’m not even going to ask about reading it.) The good news is that you can fix this. You can change your daily routines, in simple, manageable ways, and the result will be improved satisfaction with your life. In fact, even more than that: your life will get clearly, demonstrably better. I guarantee it.

Let me tell you how. Step by step, so you don’t get lost. Pay attention.


Step One: Waking Up

You’re probably still tired. School does come early, doesn’t it? I don’t really have a solution, because even when researchers say school should start later, their suggestion is between 8am and 8:30, so it’s as good as it’s going to get; but I will say that often, catching just a few more minutes of sleep can make you feel a bit more – well, not happy, certainly, but resigned, at least; accepting, maybe – of your day’s new start and the requirement that you must now move, and act, and interact with someone other than your pillow. So the key to that is to minimize your time preparing for school (or work, on the weekends) in the morning. Here’s what you do.

First, put your phone down. Checking the Twitters, or your Insta-Face GramBook, or your text messages or what have you probably doesn’t take a lot of your time, considering that your thumbs can move at skittering-cockroach speeds over the screen; but it does take your attention, and that slows you down. Brushing your teeth while looking at a screen is slower than brushing your teeth while looking at your teeth. Sure, brushing your teeth isn’t nearly as interesting as social media, but the goal here is a few more minutes of sleep: so stare into that bathroom mirror, pretend you’re a rabid wolf foaming at the mouth (Peppermint-flavored rabies is the best kind of rabies!), and get it done quickly. Same with depilation, if that is part of your morning routine: every minute you shave off of your shaving is a minute more unconscious. And that’s always the goal.

Do as many tasks as possible before you go to bed in the evening. Set out your clothes for the next day; floss at night instead of in the morning (If you floss both times, you’re either obsessive, or you snack too much in your sleep. Seriously, who has food in their teeth before breakfast? Do it at night like a regular person.). If you can shower at night without your hair doing alien levitation tricks the next day, go for it. Get your backpack/binder/whatever ready the night before, so you can just grab it and go.

Don’t skip breakfast, though. That’s important. Speaking of which…


Step Two: Breakfast

First, put your phone down. If you are one of those incredibly fortunate people with a loved one who actually makes you breakfast, show your gratitude by speaking to them. Try to be pleasant, though don’t demand a miracle from yourself; if this person is actually willing to get up in the morning and cook for someone else, they are almost certainly willing to carry the conversation, and would be happy with the chance to share their overly-chipper-insanity-babbles with you. Ask them what their plans are for the day, and then just try to nod without actually falling asleep on top of your waffles on the way down.

If you, like me, are on your own for breakfast, then it’s toast or cereal that you are looking for. If you’re a toaster: try buttering both sides. For the more cereal person, I highly recommend Mom’s Cereal. It is delicious, and it seems local, organic, and environmentally conscious; actually, it’s a Post brand with a good marketing scheme. It just pretends to be more aware.

Like you.

If you are eating cereal, then the only thing you are permitted to look at is the cereal box. Yes, I know it isn’t interesting; but that’s how cereal must be eaten. It’s a tradition. Try comparing the nutrition facts on the box to anything else you have available with a recommended daily allowance. Like the bottle of bleach under the sink! Pop quiz: which one’s healthier, bleach or Lucky Charms?

(Hint: it’s bleach. It’s also delicious on the cereal!)

All right, all fueled up and ready to hit the road? Then let’s go!


Step Three: Driving

This is a bit tougher, because there are two areas for improvement in driving: driving safer, and avoiding boredom while driving. The two can seem mutually exclusive, because things you do to entertain yourself can detract from your safety. But there are ways to accomplish both goals, which is where my suggestions will aim; anything you can substitute for entertainment is up to you. Here’s my idea.

First, put your phone down. Distracted driving is rapidly becoming the largest cause of accidents. According to the Almighty Google, 431,000 people were injured in accidents involving distracted drivers in 2014, and by far the largest population of drivers using phones while they drive is teenagers. You. Putting your phone down is the easiest thing you can do to make yourself safer – and believe me, you do not want to start your day with a car crash. Or end it that way. Or have one in the middle.

In terms of entertainment, try singing along, at maximum volume, to whatever is on the radio. It’s best when you’re listening to opera or Spanish music. When you have no idea what the words are, you get to make them up. And the tune, too! Try it with your windows down – entertain the other drivers! See, it feels good to make other people happy!

Before you know it, you’ll arrive. (Even faster if other people are chasing you.) Time for…


Step Four: School

Once again, there are many aspects, some of which can pull you in opposite directions. If you do well in class, does that make you a nerd, and therefore persona non grata among the interesting sex? (If you are interested in women, then no: they tend not to be that shallow. If you are interested in men, then no: they are way too shallow to care about intelligence.) But in any case, I will try to help you out in as many aspects as I can. Here we go.


Classes: If you really can get more sleep, that will make the biggest difference. Along with eating breakfast. Nobody can learn while they are asleep. Other than getting more sleep, the next best thing you can do is this: first, put your phone down. Pay attention. I know it can be difficult, but it’s a positive feedback loop: the more you pay attention, the more sense it makes, and that makes it easier to pay attention and also more useful at the same time; at some point, you will be able to get distracted by the ideas in the class, and still pay attention at the same time.

Trust me. That is a very fun way to learn something. Give it a shot; your current method of ignoring the very idea of work, and then hoping that something, somehow, will make sense when the test is placed in front of you, is probably not working real well.


Using the bathroom: First, put your phone down. Carefully: you don’t want to drop it here. And talking to someone else while you are on the toilet makes you worse than Stalin. No exaggeration. But it is fun to have a fake one-way conversation while someone is in the next stall. Ask the air how their hemorrhoids are doing. Or if they plan to torture that last one they caught, or just kill it and dump the body. Or try talking to the person in the next stall, demanding a response, and then when they respond, say disgustedly, “I wasn’t talking to you!”

Please note: if you are using the men’s room, don’t talk to people while you’re using urinals. Don’t do it. Ever. Worse than Stalin. Really.


Dealing with teachers and assorted “authority” figures: First, put your phone down. The people who think they are in charge of the school are old-fashioned; to them, eye contact is respectful, and looking down and away – say, at a phone screen subtly palmed in one hand (Or both hands, if you have an iPhone 6) –  is disrespectful. I know, I know, it makes no sense – you don’t respect them whether you look at them or not – but you will find that things are much easier when you give people what they want, particularly with “authorities,” when it doesn’t actually cost you anything to give it to them. It bothers my pride, too, to just give people something they didn’t earn (Like passing grades or an answer to their ridiculous questions); but then, in exchange, they don’t give me something I didn’t earn: a Walmart-sized ration of crap. So look them in the eye when they are talking to you. Unless they are angry: then look down at the ground. At the ground, mind you – not at a phone. Teachers hate it when you look at phones while they are talking to you. I think it’s because they don’t actually use their phones. They never have friends. And even if they do, nobody texts a teacher: they correct your grammar. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

A secondary note: teachers never want to see your phone. Never. They don’t want to look at that video, they don’t want to read that webcomic, they don’t want to scroll through those memes or screencapped text conversations. If they look when you bring it to them, they are only being polite, and praying that you will go away soon. If you think you have something so funny or interesting that a teacher has to see it, send them an email. If it’s not worth you putting out that much effort, then it isn’t worth them looking at your cracked screen, trying to make out the tiny letters.


Social Life: First, put your phone down. Seriously. Counterintuitive, I know, but listen: people who want to hang out with you will want to hang out with you. Not your phone. There is no meme you can show them that they haven’t already seen. And if you make memes, nobody will want to hang out with you. Ever. Nobody. I mean it. Stop making memes. And when you meet someone that doesn’t immediately make you want to puke with boredom or nap with rage, then try talking to them. Of course you can talk about your phones, but you’re either going to make them feel bad when your phone is better than theirs, or feel bad when their phone is better than yours. Better to just forget about the phones and, I don’t know, talk about music. Or movies, maybe. Or which teachers suck least. Or how individual existence is only an illusion and we’re all connected aspects of one divine godhead. Once you get to know a person, you could sit together for hours staring at your phones together; but it’s better if you don’t. If you want to watch something, get a bigger screen; otherwise you’re breathing their damp, half-used exhaled air, and they’re stealing bites of your Twinkies and sometimes catching your fingers instead, and it’s weird. If you don’t have access to a bigger screen, try going out and doing something together. Take a walk. Go to a dog park or the shelter and pet puppies for free. Go to the mall and race the old people – it’s up to you if it’s more fun when they know you’re racing, or if it’s more fun when they don’t; I recommend both. You always get better stories when you make them than when you see them online.


Homework: First, put your phone down. You are fooling nobody when you cheat. Seriously. Fooling nobody, and gaining nothing but disdain and a sense of your own hopelessness. Feel free to not do the homework, of course – who really cares? I mean, teachers, but who cares that matters? Nobody, that’s who. Your parents may think they care, but there’s an easy way out: pretend you’re gay, if you’re not; or pretend you’re not, if you are and your parents know it. Then when they’ve forgotten entirely about that missing math assignment, just tell them it was a phase. It never fails. More advanced options include convincing them that you have fallen in love with, say, a toaster. Everybody knows about teenaged hormones: you can sell it, if you work hard enough at it. Just like pregnant women can convince people that they want to eat literally anything, and usually get the person to provide it. I almost wish I could be a pregnant woman: I’d tell everyone that I was suffering an unbearable craving for human flesh; then I’d stare at them silently, hungrily, and wait to see who was really my friend.


All right, that’s the end of your school day. For the drive home, treat it the same way as the drive to school: sing your way home. Pretend your car is powered by music. See if you can get it to fly on the wings of song. As for dinner, treat it like breakfast: if you are provided dinner, show your gratitude by talking to the person about their day, but this time, try to add something about yours. It doesn’t matter what, as long as it isn’t on your phone. If you make your own dinner, read the cereal box. Oh: let me add one thing here that could be scattered throughout your day.

Step In-Between: Waiting in line/in traffic/for your turn

Go ahead and get your phone out. This is what phones are actually good for, other than talking to Grandma. Unless you’re driving: if you’re driving, now’s your chance to really wow your audience in the nearby cars, because they’re waiting with you. Here’s a challenge: get them to listen to you when their windows are rolled up. Try adding pantomime to your singing.


Once you finally get through the day, it’s time for . . .


Step Five: Evening entertainment

I don’t want to tell you what to do with your free time. I mean, how invasive  and controlling and arrogant, to tell somebody how to live their life. You do you.


Step Six: Bedtime

At last, time to get some sleep! After you shower, floss, shave, pack your bags and set your clothes out for tomorrow, that is. Your pillow has been waiting for you all day! Oh, how you’ve missed it! You’ve got your narwhal pajamas on, your six fans directed at you, three of them blowing over heater vents and three over buckets of ice; the alarm is set, the clock is turned away so you don’t obsess over how much time you have until you have to get up; you’re all set. And how do you make your sleep deeper, more restful, more rejuvenating for the next day?

First: put your phone down.

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