10 Tips on How to Live Your Life, According to Zach Braff's 'Garden State'

10 Tips on How to Live Your Life, According to Zach Braff's 'Garden State'

Mar 10, 2014

It’s a big year for Zach Braff. Not only is his second film, Wish I Was Here, hitting theatres on July 18, but his popular first project, Garden State, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The movie finally arrived on Blu-ray last week, and thanks to articles everywhere about aimless millennials it’s remarkably still relevant.

But beyond that, Garden State remains a charming, quintessentially indie film that captures a familiar time in a lot of our lives where we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves, or who we wanted to become. It understands that time, and has gentle little wisdoms to offer for those stuck in quarter-life crises. But it also has other lessons to offer about everyday life, too.

Here then are 10 of its most useful lessons about the power of music, Klingon, sidecars, and, of course, love.



1. Don’t Live in Symbols and Metaphors

It’s hard enough not knowing what you want to do with your life, who you are, or who you want to be. It’s even harder if there are constant symbols and metaphors around you reflecting your current state. So when you’re going through an existentially turbulent time, stay away from things like uneven mirrors, empty bedrooms, shirts that make you disappear into wallpaper, ironic last names, or drugs that leave you too immobile to be the life of a party. It’ll all just make you more depressed.


2. Try New Music – It Could Change Your Life

Music is more accessible than ever these days, and it’s accessible in overwhelming amounts. It can make seeking out new stuff to listen to a bit of an intimidating task. You should still do it, though. Especially if someone – say, a really cute someone – asks you to listen to something you haven’t heard before. Music has a tremendous power to capture a feeling or a moment in your life, and it can also create them and change your life, too. Be open to that. Also, be open to a dog humping your leg. That could also change your life.


3. Learn Klingon

Even in our geek-obsessed culture, a Klingon speaker still remains a stigmatized stereotype of ubernerddom. It shouldn’t be. If a full-time Medieval Times knight (played by Jim Parsons, no less) can sound badass and score with it, then clearly it’s a language worth knowing. If not in full, at least – like with any other language we’re curious to pick up – the dirty parts that can come in handy.


4 Accept That Hugs Are Better Than Kisses

It’s a truth not always universally acknowledged that hugs are better than kisses. Garden State acknowledges this. Yes, the movie has romantic smooch moments, but its most relatable bits of intimacy are when Sam and Largeman comfortably fold into each other’s arms. Because let’s face it: kisses are awesome, but you can’t get them from everybody. Plus, when you’ve had a long, hard day, what feels better? A hug or a kiss? There you go.


5. Take Good Care of Your Pets

Sam can claim all she wants that she’s a good pet owner. Her backyard still looks at best like an Animal Services call waiting to happen, and at worst like Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (or a budding serial killer's playground). It’s a miracle Largeman doesn’t just run away from this family that waves around a dead hamster like it’s no big deal. So, be kinder to your pets. Or, if you notice they have a tendency of dying on you, then maybe you should stop getting more.


6. Sometimes We Need Others to Feel What We Can’t

Thanks to years of antidepressants, Largeman is essentially emotionally clogged. He can’t cry. He can’t feel. Even when telling Sam about his mom dying, and even when Sam breaks down and starts crying. It’s a great moment because it’s a reminder that we can’t always feel things the way we should, but sometimes we can let others do it for us. And in a cathartic, vicarious way, it’s a welcome experience.


7. Don’t Be a Sidecar Bitch

Sam might be a little unfair to people who enjoy sidecars when she says they’re all bitches, but here’s one metaphor you shouldn’t avoid: Don’t be a passenger in your own life. Seize hold of it, make it your own, and make it a series of – as Sam later puts it – “completely original moments in human history.” Because it’s that philosophy of hers that makes her unwilling to settle for a sidecar that marginalizes her on someone else’s journey.


8. Let Your Parents Embarrass You

We all have our alligator-outfit skating routine. The thing our parents will eagerly show our potential suitors even though we find them humiliating. Let them. Not just because our parents deserve to be proud of us (however misguided the source of their pride might be), but because we can’t always see ourselves the way others do. For someone you’re dating to see what others love about you is important because they’re going to wind up loving things about you that you won’t either..


9. When Looking for Love, Remember the Importance of Safety 

“I feel so safe with you,” Largeman tells Sam late in the film. Of all the things love offers, this is one of its greatest gifts. You feel safe; you feel at home. You feel you can say anything and do anything without fear of judgment or ridicule. You can be your true self. That’s the kind of thing you want to keep an eye out for when you’re out there looking for love.


10. Remember: “This Is It. This Is Life.”

It can be easy to get wrapped up in our thoughts, our worries, and our perpetual wondering about what we should with our future. But at the end of the day, you only get one life, and you have to live it as best you can. If you indulge in too many ellipses (or as he puts it, “Ellipses is dumb”), you can get lost and lose sight of what’s in front of you right in the here and now.



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