Teenage Happiness 101: an essential guide to important adolescent experiences

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the classic teenage experiences portrayed in movies and TV. As with most imitations, these portrayals usually do not occur in “real life,” but some part of me yearns to have those same experiences–the experiences that apparently result in happiness and sometimes even theatrical lip-syncing to a song that perfectly describes your feelings.

Ok, so maybe my wish is unrealistic. While I enjoy the idea of these teenage traditions, my brief encounters with such have only disillusioned me further with the petty drama and overall bandwagon nonsense that typically go with it. But a girl can dream, yeah? No?

In any case, here are 5 experiences that my incurable addiction to Netflix Instant and cable TV has taught me about finding happiness in the adolescent years:

Join a glee club

“Glee” has illustrated the power of the show choir, the uninhibited feeling you get when singing Journey’s classic hit, “Don’t Stop Believing” with your closest pals. Don’t let my nonchalance fool you; I am whole-heartedly committed to the idea of joining a glee club to solve teenage loneliness, to find a significant other, and to add some unnecessary drama in life. Just look at the indescribable expressions of joy on those faces. I yearn to feel as free-spirited as Artie appears in this photo, spreading his arms wide (symbolically, of course) and casting a lighthearted smile into the distance. Because a little glee (plus creepy teacher-on-student moments, dramatic sighs, and tribute episodes with the illusion of storyline) goes a long way.

Become a member of an inseparable group

The concept of an inseparable group of friends (typically boy/girl for added drama) a la “Saved by the Bell” or “Beverly Hills, 90210” is a TV staple. My older sisters religiously watched shows such as these, and so my lust for a fun, crazy, but undoubtedly solid gang of friends has been ingrained in my head for as long as I can remember.

Now, membership in a particular type of group depends on your personality. Maybe hanging out with a lot of friends all the time just isn’t yours style. And I don’t blame you. I would definitely get sick of the restrictions that come with being in a clique (dating only those in the group if it’s boy/girl, hanging out with only those people, etc.). Perhaps you’re meant for more of a Harry/Ron/Hermione type trio that allows a bit more freedom, or you’re bound to be a floater who hangs out with whomever he or she pleases as I do. It’s obviously your decision.

Just know that if you’re not in a gang of friends, you’re missing out on the pure essence of being a teenager. The illogical antics, the prevalent effect of mass hysteria, and the pressure to always feel included. And perhaps the warm and fuzzy feeling that your inseparable group always as your back. I’ve found the last experience to be rare in the types of groups I have met, but maybe I’m too cynical to keep looking.

Note: if you have already joined the glee club, than huzzah! You have found your gang of misfits.

Fall in love

(Sure Kevin and Winnie are a bit young when they first realize their love for each other, but they are the paragon of adorable puppy love, and I wish I could have had this in middle school instead of a bad haircut and an unending supply of angst, ok?)

First love. The butterflies, the jitters, the sweaty palms and weak knees… You finally find a person that completely understands how you feel on the rollercoaster of emotions that is teenagedom. And then you get the added bonus of a make out buddy!

I’m not the best authority on the subject. I typically just crush on someone and then slowly lose interest once I find someone new. But you find this plot device in just about every TV show and movie out there about high school, so it must be kind of a big deal, right?

Date a brooding vampire

Essentially, if you find your life uninteresting or in need of some supernatural excitement, you should either wait for a handsome vampire to move to your school or you should move to a small town with an excess of clouds in hopes of finding a brooding vampire in your biology class. Once you have found a suitable bloodsucker, simply get him to become obsessed with you, and voila! Your life will never be boring again.

However, make sure that you play “hard to get” or appear perpetually unimpressed by his mysterious persona. This will ensure that he will continue to try to please you and convince you that he is worthy of your time, no matter what he says about “being dangerous for you” or “a threat to your very existence.” NBD, guys. NBD.

(For added effect, make sure your vampire has heavy eyebrows and perfectly sculpted hair. Blue button-down optional, but highly recommended to complement his alabaster glow.)

Find the perfect date, dress, etc. for the school dance

TV and movies typically forget to mention the overall sweatiness and exhaustion that accompanies school dances, instead focusing on the romance and (of course) drama. But there are a few portrayals of school dances I agree with and enjoy for their sincerity: the homecoming dance scene from “Freaks and Geeks,” the school dance scene in “Sixteen Candles,” the initial awkwardness of the prom scene in “Pretty and Pink,” and the prom scene in “Napoleon Dynamite.”

What matters most at these types of dances is having fun. Sure, you want to have the perfect look for the pictures, but what you will remember years from now is the actual dancing. Having a date is great, but not the main objective. “Pretty and Pink” advises that, in the end, you should go with whom you feel comfortable–even if you end up parting on the dance floor (which I still don’t entirely agree with since I would have chosen Duckie over Blaine any day).

Perhaps TV and movies push these ideas of adolescence because they are the memories you look back on and can recall exactly how you felt at the time, the person you were when you first fell in love or first realized you had a solid group of friends on whom you could rely. Sure, the awkwardness is often overlooked on the big screen, but the emotions are real–even if soap opera-esque glee clubs and gloomy vampires are not–and the nostalgia will last a lifetime.

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“Something always brings me back to you.”

My sister first told me about the MTV show “My Life as Liz” during my freshman year when it first aired. She said I looked and acted just like the titular character, and she recommended that I watch the show to see for myself.

The first episode I watched, “Liz’s Got Talent? Part 1” didn’t particularly impress me. Liz and I seemed to share a similar viewpoint on the world and the same humor to boot, but I wasn’t sold.

That soon changed when I watched the prior episode “My Sketchy Valentine” in which Liz finds herself bequeathed with red carnations by a “secret admirer.” Turns out, (SPOILER) that Cori Cooper, her popular arch nemesis, had sent the carnations to humiliate Liz when she would discover no such admirer at the Valentine’s Day dance.

I can pinpoint it to the very scene: after being shown up at the dance, Liz sits on the hood of her car (“Juno” style) while gazing pensively at the stars and thinks, “I wonder if it’s always going to be like this. I mean, am I going to be like 80 years old at the old folks’ home, and Bob with the bad prostate is going to stand me up at the holiday social? What if life is just one long continuation of high school?”

I was only about a semester into my own high school experience, but I couldn’t help but agree. I had already been stood up in a different way only a few months prior and had wondered the same thing: is it always going to be like this?

And even though the reality of the show is questionable, “My Life as Liz” immediately became one of my endearing guilty pleasures. Nearly two years have passed since I watched my first episode, and I’m still hooked on the first season.* There’s something undeniably relatable about the story of the slightly eccentric girl fighting her way through high school. Sure, Liz isn’t exactly the “nerd” she proclaims herself to be, but she offers a different perspective from the typical teen dramedy.

“My Life as Liz” is my comfort show. Although it may not be the most universally accepted or even the most intellectually stimulating, I find comfort in the familiarity. I know all the lines, the jokes, the dramatic eye rolls, but I still find joy in watching it when home alone on one of those nights.

While I certainly enjoy other, perhaps wittier, shows, something always brings me back to Liz. It never takes too long.

*The second season not so much, but that’s another story.

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