As a 20-something myself, I was intrigued by the subtitle of researcher Jeffrey Froh’s new book, Thrive, which reads “10 Commandments for 20-Somethings to Live the Best-Life-Possible.”

Notoriously a time of great change, your 20s is the perfect time to start investing in yourself and your future while entering young adulthood. However, it’s also a time of confusion about your personal priorities and values, and it can be stressful to navigate new responsibilities, especially in the context of increased mental health concerns in recent years. It can be hard to know where to turn to for guidance, which is where Thrive excels: by imparting advice in a clearly structured and meaningful way. 

Froh is currently a professor of psychology at Hofstra University, as well as the founder—and now research director—of the Positive Psychology Institute for Emerging Adults. He also created a very popular positive psychology course at Hofstra that he’s been teaching since 2010.

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Clearly, Froh’s work with positive psychology has informed the content of his book, which contains a healthy dose of rational optimism about people’s ability to transcend suffering and live their best life possible. As he writes in Thrive, “If you learn anything from me or this book, please learn this: You can thrive.”

In the interview below, Froh delves deeper into the guiding principles behind the book. Whether you’re most interested in developing your future career or struggling to discover and connect to your authentic self, there are plenty of nuggets of wisdom awaiting you in the pages of Thrive

Ashwini Murali: How long had you known you were going to write this book?

Jeffrey J. Froh, Psy.D.

Jeffrey Froh: I wanted to write not what was before me, but what was within me. In other words, I didn’t want to choose the book, I wanted it to choose me. After writing for about a year, I realized that this was happening organically. So, unbeknownst to me, this book was placed in my heart when I was a zygote.

Furthermore, I fell in love with teaching positive psychology. Not just the content, but I loved hearing about my students’ stories. Yes, I heard about the benefits from the positive psychology assignments. But I also heard about their pain, trauma, and heartache. I tried helping them by starting a campus-based clinic grounded in positive clinical psychology. That’s when I began seeing behind the curtains what was really going on. Because my grad students and I could only help so many people, I thought writing a book would help us “give it away” to the masses. Therefore, I spent the last four years writing Thrive.

AM: What are students struggling with? What did you learn from teaching positive psychology to them for 12 years?

JF: Unfortunately, the short answer is everything. From living with their parents and not knowing if they’re someone’s child or tenant, to calling their credit card company and having a panic attack because they’ve never had to be assertive (thanks to people doing too much for them). Then, of course, there’s the hookup culture. Many people think that 20-somethings like this. Well, when the door’s closed and you’re talking to an emerging adult one-on-one about it, you hear the truth. “I hate it, but I don’t know what else to do” is a common statement.

That’s why I created commandment VI to thrive (“Thou shalt love deeply”). Many of us, including me, got a horrible roadmap to love from our parents. Use it, and we often find ourselves in sketchy neighborhoods or creepy gas stations. But, if you use the roadmap to love deeply that I created, based on fundamentals like friendship, listening, touch, and chasing dreams together, you’ll find a love that has created wars.

AM: Which commandment of the book do you think is the most useful to master?

JF: I think they all are, and I think they ideally should be followed in sequential order, because keeping earlier commandments to thrive facilitates keeping later commandments. For example, how can you keep commandment X (“Thou shalt master mission”) if you don’t keep commandment I (“Thou shalt have direction”)? But, if I had to choose the most useful commandment to master—especially now with COVID fatigue—I’d say commandment IX (“Thou shalt give thanks”).

  • Finding Purpose Across the Lifespan

    This article is part of a GGSC initiative on “Finding Purpose Across the Lifespan,” supported by the John Templeton Foundation. In a series of articles, podcast episodes, and other resources, we’re exploring why and how to deepen your sense of purpose at different stages of life.

Everyone is exhausted; we’re burnt out. Making decisions, even small ones, has become so difficult. Sure, we can increase our energy with exercise, sleep, etc. But we can also increase our energy by recognizing that death is a reality and life is a gift. Like right now. I simultaneously realize that this might be my last conversation, and I’m grateful for our time together. Therefore, even though our eight-month-old had trouble sleeping the last few nights and I’m shot, this awareness is giving me the energy to stay engaged during and savor our conversation.

We always hear that “life is a gift.” It’s a cool t-shirt. But have you ever really pondered it? Physician Ali Binazir calculated the probability of us being born, and he found that the odds are “basically zero.” In other words, probability-speaking, we shouldn’t be talking now. We shouldn’t exist. Our lungs shouldn’t expand, and our heart shouldn’t beat. The more we realize this—that we’re not supposed to be here, we don’t deserve to be here, and we’re not entitled to be here—the more we realize that life is a gift. And the more we realize that life is a gift, the more this gratitude energizes us to use this gift as intended: to live our best life possible and master our mission (i.e., commandment X to thrive).

AM: What does it mean to master your mission? How can young people do that?

JF: When people hear “mission,” they think Mother Teresa and other virtuous people. I think that’s because “mission” is the spiritual/religious side of the meaning/purpose coin. But, though I think our mission is a divine acorn planted within us by God—because I’m no longer an atheist as I was in my teens and 20s—what I mean by “mission” is something that only you can do to spread love.

You’ve heard this before. But do you understand the significance? Do you realize that only you can complete your mission, that you need you, humanity needs you, and God needs you? Thankfully, we have spiritual Olympians like Mother Teresa. But few of us are called to distant lands to start a new religious order. Instead, most “ordinary folk,” like me, are called to master our mission in simpler, smaller ways. For some, it’s telling veterans’ stories via painting, giving a voice to those sometimes silent or unheard. For others, it’s being a phenomenal parent and therefore packing an extra cookie for their kids when they have an exam. Both are loving acts (the essence of a mission), but they’re expressed differently because the people pursuing these missions are different.

The next time you get overwhelmed by pursuing your mission (and everyone does, including me)—whether it’s because you fear failure or think that only “religious” people have missions—remember the purpose of everyone’s mission: to use what’s within you—what’s unique to you—to spread love and help others thrive. 

AM: If you had read and applied the lessons of this book in your 20s, how do you think you would’ve lived life differently?

Thrive: 10 Commandments for 20-Somethings to Live the Best-Life-Possible (Human Touch Press, 2021, 354 pages)

JF: I would’ve done so many things differently. I would’ve worked harder at not needing people’s approval so I could be the “real me.” I also would’ve said no more often so I had more time and energy to live my best life possible—and not just grind. Regarding my mission, I literally said to my daughter this morning, if I could do it over again, I really, really wish I pursued being a full-time writer. I remember that while writing my papers in college I got excited, like giddy, to write that conclusion. Because to me those were my ideas, my synthesis, and I always loved trying to create that banging last line. I remember one time running in the parking lot to my friend Eric, like “Yo dude, check out this last line,” and I was so excited, but no one saw that. I wish I listened to my inner voice. But I guess I lost my hearing from blasting my car stereo!

I feel like if someone fanned that flame a little bit—that flame to write from my heart to your heart—I would’ve tried paying more attention to those small moments when I was doing something that I felt so alive. Hoping to help others learn from my mistakes, I write about this in commandment VII (“Thou shalt slow down”).

AM: How can young people slow down more?

JF: Concluding each of the 10 commandments to thrive, I provide five practical, science-based tips to keep the respective commandment. To slow down, among my recommendations, I encourage people to stop using a mobile office. Rather than talking on their phone while driving, I encourage people to take a “brain break” and drive in silence. To improve their physical and mental health, as well as strengthen and forge relationships, I also urge people to be childlike and foster a strong play ethic. Host game nights, go cliff camping, or build a snowman! Spending $10 for an alarm clock (instead of using your phone) and having coffee with the birds will also help you chill, be healthier, and slow down.

AM: Your book spoke a lot about authenticity. Is it possible for 20-somethings to remain authentic in this age of social media?

JF: 100% possible, but hard. As you know, with every post, you risk getting slammed. People can be mean, nasty. So, if you want to be in the digital world and remain authentic, you must convince yourself that you don’t need people’s approval—and good luck with that! You must also be strong and tell your haters “back the hell off!” So, yes, you can remain authentic with social media. But it can be draining. You’re probably better off spending your time and energy on pursuits that will actually help you thrive. 

AM: What are some ways in which people can be “real” with themselves and uncover their hidden values?

JF: Recall that I said it’s critical to keep earlier commandments to thrive if you want to keep later commandments. Well, being “real” perfectly captures this. Immediately preceding “Thou shalt be real” is “Thou shalt accept thyself.” Why? Because if you don’t have unconditional self-acceptance (U.S.A.) and you make your worth conditional on people liking you, you’ll always be fake. If you think that you need people’s approval for your self-worth, you’ll play it safe. You’ll say the right thing, at the right time, for the right nod, by the right person.

The result? Momentary connection. A smile. A nod. A giggle. But who wants emotional scraps? Forget that! If you start accepting yourself—as is—you’ll be more courageous with putting yourself “out there.” Again, why? Because when (not if!) people reject you, it will sting less. You’ll start to have a “whatever” attitude. When you do, you’ll get more comfortable being your quirky self and you’ll eventually find others with similar quirks.

AM: Can people younger or older than their 20s still benefit from reading this book?

JF: Totally! People ranging from their teens to 80s have told me how much they’ve benefitted from reading it. I’m so humbled by and grateful for this. One woman in her lower 70s recently said to me, while holding the book to her heart with tears in her eyes, “Oh, honey, if I could do it over again.” Many others have also called it “a book for all ages.” So, even if you’re not in your 20s, you might benefit from reading Thrive.

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