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A special message for the very young

(The following information cannot be read by the people for whom it is intended _ the babies to be born in 1999 in the United States _ so an adult with a pair of scissors is essential for the following transmission.)

All right, you little people: listen up! We only go through this once. This is not a drill. This is the real thing. It's called life. One of you lands here about every 10 seconds. Don't blow it. The Old Sarge here is detailed to explain to you all you need to know to get through life. It is not all that complicated for most humans.

First off, congratulations on being born in the old U.S. of A. This just happens to be the richest and most powerful country in all of recorded history. There will be more than 6-billion people riding this old planet this year. A lot of them wish they were Americans.

Why? Good grub, plenty of space outside the cities and cable TV, just to mention three reasons. Clean air, clean water, most places, and freedom to do as much or as little as you want to do, those are three more reasons.

We start out 1999 just a tad shy of 272-million people in our fair country. But I warn you all to watch your step. Don't do anything stupid, like drive drunk, screw around with drugs, or engage in unprotected _ well, I'll leave that part for later.

Someone dies every 12 seconds in this country, most of them old people who had a full shot at life. The most important thing to remember is that you don't have to make things harder than they already are. That sounds obvious, right? But you'd be amazed at the number of people who make life harder for themselves. All in all, smart is better than dumb.

But the Lord seems to look out for a lot of folks who are not blessed in the brainpower department. In fact, some of the smartest folks are the unhappiest, too. A great deal of the success in finding contentment in life is recognizing your limitations and adapting to circumstance.

Some of the strongest and smartest and richest are terribly unhappy. And some of the frailest, sickest or least-favored are remarkably successful human beings with lives that are full and rich and meaningful. There's a real trick to understanding how this all works. One of the secrets to happiness is being able to free yourself from hate. Some people spend most of their time hating others. You'll learn to identify them soon enough, I'm afraid.

Typically, they have narrowed eyes, cruel lips, aggressive manners, high blood pressure, fragile stomachs, and a history of being knocked around and knocking other people around. Generally speaking, these bullying personalities tend to blame someone else for their problems.

As a rule, you are responsible for your own good time. If you find yourself becoming unhappy more than a modest amount, make some changes in your life. It's the same as when you learn to handle your money: No one watches out for your money the way you do; and no one is as responsible for your own happiness as you are.

You might as well start early on learning how to get along with people who are different _ in skin color, attitude, language, customs, religion. You really have no other choice but to get along. Americans are only about a 20th of mankind. There are more people of color than there are who are white. By the time you folks are 50, there will be as many non-whites and Hispanic-Americans as white Americans. Whatever your color, deal with it.

Even if you are not real smart, you can make yourself really educated. Learn the difference between inspiration and perspiration. Teach yourself how to work. Reading, figuring, and computing will be necessary if you want a good life. The more time you spend with books, the richer your life will be.

By the time you are 30, for every two of you working, one American will be retired and drawing on Social Security. That money will come out of your paycheck, basically. That'll set up a lot of conflict between your generation and mine. Deal with it. It was this generation that fed, housed, safeguarded and educated yours, after all.

That's one basic issue _ fairness _ that my generation hasn't solved yet. Maybe you people can do a better job. There's more trouble ahead with immigration _ population flow from poor to rich countries.

With 6-billion people _ and more arriving every day _ we're running out of clean water, arable land, and safe space. You people are going to have to figure out how to deal with people who come here, legally or illegally. I can't give you much help; we've made a hash of it so far. That's enough for now. Now, get some sleep, people; you've got a whole century ahead of you.

David Nyhan is a Boston Globe columnist.

Boston Globe