Number One: “These are the best days/years of your life.”

Pictured: how the majority of people over the age of thirty seem to think of people under the age of thirty.

Pictured: how the majority of people over the age of thirty seem to think of people under the age of thirty.

This expression is often used by middle-aged or elderly people when speaking to teenagers and young adults with the idea that it encourages them to live in the moment and to enjoy the carefree days of their youth. But it’s actually a depressing and discouraging thing to tell someone because it’s basically equivalent to saying, “Things are never, ever going to get any better than they are now.” That’s a little sad even if the person hearing it really is relatively content and carefree, but the fact of the matter is that most teenagers and young adults really aren’t that happy with the way things are going. In the same way that adults tend to forget the extent of the disappointments and frustrations of childhood, it would seem that older adults forget the extent of the stresses and struggles of being younger.

School is hard, learning to make financial decisions for oneself is hard, and making long-term life choices is hard. And right now, it is becoming increasingly normal for recent college graduates to initially fail at the whole being-a-grownup thing, and to take several years to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet and what they’re going to do with their lives.

As someone who doesn’t have a home or much of any money, who has recently moved to an unfamiliar area and isn’t having an easy time settling in, who doesn’t necessarily eat three meals every day because food is expensive, and who spends a couple hours a day driving a car that has had the check engine light on for more than ten months now, I don’t want to hear that these are the best days of my life.

I do realize that there are advantages and disadvantages to every age bracket, and that being middle-aged or elderly isn’t all that great, either. I’m pretty sure that there’s no specific age that is the best age to be. Everyone goes through times that are happier or harder than other times, and the chronology of those phases varies from person to person. Even within the life of one specific individual, it would probably be impossible to pinpoint a certain time period that was the best. But the bottom line is that nobody likes being told by an oblivious but well-meaning friend or family member that they have things better than they actually do. So unless you somehow happen to be absolutely certain that someone is genuinely content with their current lot in life, you shouldn’t imply to them that it’s only downhill from there.

Number Two: “There are other people who have it worse.”

In order to be allowed to be sad, please fill out an application form and include a pathetic resume and list three references who think you're worthless.

In order to be eligible for sadness, please fill out an application form and include a pathetic resume, a list of three references who think you’re worthless, and medical records that indicate that you suffer from numerous fatal diseases and are in constant agonizing pain. Your application will probably be denied if you have not been diagnosed with manic depression, do not have substantial credit card debt, or have supportive family and/or friends.

On tumblr recently, someone posted a text post that went something like this: “After much searching, the person with the worst life is finally found. They are officially granted permission to be sad, but only them, and no one else.” (Paraphrased quotation because I’m too lazy to go back and find it) As silly as that is, the absurdity comes from the implication of the original cliché, not from the tumblr user’s response to it.

After all, why would it be reassuring or comforting to point out to someone who has a problem that there are other people who have it worse? Unless the person to whom you are talking has some serious personality issues, they aren’t going to be happy about someone else’s woes. Even if someone is unselfish enough to easily and immediately forget their own difficulties in order to feel sympathy for someone else, that person is still not going to be happy about the situation. Empathy for other people’s hardships is not an enjoyable state of mind, even if it is morally better than feeling sorry for one’s self.

By an odd coincidence, nearly every time that someone I know has been seriously injured, it has occurred at a time when I was frustrated by a reoccurring minor injury myself, and it neither cheered me up nor cured my not-really-very-severe pain to know that someone else was suffering from much worse pain. It made me feel both guilty and worried at a time when I was already upset.

Besides that, it’s not as if a person can suddenly become happy just by deciding that they ought to be happy. Despite what every motivational speaker has repeatedly said, you don’t choose your emotions. They are determined in part by your personality and in part by the circumstances and events of your life. Neither of those factors is something that you can change at will; if they were, you wouldn’t ever be unhappy in the first place. When things are going badly, the last thing you need is someone trying to guilt-trip you into being happy, especially because guilt is also a negative emotion.

Number Three: “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

"Susie's had a rough day, so I don't think she can handle anything else going wrong at the moment, but I bet Bobby could take a few hurtful insults, a car accident, and a death in the family before he totally loses it."

“Susie’s had a rough day, so I don’t think she can handle anything else going wrong at the moment, but I bet Bobby could take a few hurtful insults, a car accident, and a death in the family before he totally loses it.”

Like many religious clichés, this isn’t actually in the Bible, but it’s often quoted as a piece of scriptural wisdom.  You can already tell from that fact alone that something’s a little fishy about it. Granted, there are some Bible verses that could technically be reworded to say this, if you were really flexible with how you defined what it means to be able to “handle” something. But that ambiguity is the only way you can get away with using this cliché. After all, stress and unhappiness can worsen physical diseases and trigger mental illnesses, people’s personalities and outlooks on life can change for the worse because of difficult experiences, and there have even been people who have lost their faith after going through a traumatic loss. If none of those things count as not being able to “handle” something, I’m not sure what would.

This is essentially a false promise, just like the false promise that God will give you financial abundance if you donate a certain amount of money to a televangelist, or that God will heal the physical infirmities of anyone whose faith is strong enough. (So therefore, anyone who is ill or injured or who has a disability must not have very strong faith.) And just like those other false promises that claim to come from God, there is risk that a person will be turned away from the church when they realize that life as a Christian really isn’t free from all cares and concerns. There are plenty of wonderful promises that God does make; there isn’t any need for people to make up their own divine promises to share with each other just because they sound good.

Of course, that isn’t to say that anyone who hears a cliché like this will be turned away from their faith. More likely, the person hearing these kinds of promises will be hurt that they’re being fed meaningless clichés when they could really use some genuine moral support. But that’s still a good reason that people just shouldn’t say things like this.