Thirteen pieces of advice to my favorite thirteen-year-old on her birthday

1. Forgive people. Even if they’re wrong. Even if you’re wronged. Even if they don’t ask for forgiveness. Let it all go—holding on to a grudge is poison to your soul.

2. “Eat food, not too much, mostly green.” ~ Michael Pollan

3. Keep your passport current. Travel is the best education, and a current passport means you’re always prepared for a spontaneous trip.

4. Spend a little time with nature every day. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass, dig in the dirt with your hands, plant a pot of flowers for your balcony, sit under a tree with a book, open a window and listen to the rain. Civilization causes stress and illness—nature is the antidote.

5. People will tell you to narrow your focus and concentrate on one thing. Don’t listen to them. Follow your muse in whatever direction it takes you, even if just for a short time. Make art, make music, dance, do things just for fun. You’ll be a better, happier person for it.

6. Learn to cook a few cheap, decent meals. Feeding yourself will be a lifetime occupation. You might as well enjoy your own cooking.

7. Don’t be afraid to say “No” and mean it. It’s not necessary or healthy to be agreeable all the time. Stand up for yourself. Set boundaries. Walk (or run) away if something feels unsafe or makes you uncomfortable.

8. Take photos and actually have them printed. You’ll be glad later when you and your college friends find a box of old photos in a closet and stay up all night giggling over them.

9. Never visit anyone’s home empty handed. Always bring a gift, even if it’s just freshly picked flowers.

10. Learn to listen. So few people really listen to anyone else. Undivided attention is the greatest gift you can give someone. Put down your phone and listen, face to face, eye to eye.

11. Happiness is a choice. It’s a bad habit to give anyone credit for your happiness, or blame for your unhappiness. Every day decide which way you want to feel and work towards that.

12. Learn to ask for what you want. It’s sometimes easier for girls to complain about what they don’t want, than to say exactly what they do want. Be clear about what you want—you’re much more likely to get it.

13. Say your “Thank you’s”. Gratitude takes you further in this life than any other single thing. Say “Thank you” often, not only when someone does something nice for you, but first thing in the morning, out loud, and often throughout the day. If you’re having a difficult time, stop and say a few “Thank you’s” and mean them. Watch how things change for the better.