4:00 pm EST, February 10, 2015

Ten valuable life lessons from ‘The Mindy Project’

The Mindy Project is hilarious and romantic, but it might also teach us some important lessons about life.

Raise your hand if you love Mindy Kaling. That’s… everybody, right? It should be, anyway.

The Mindy Project not only tells one of the best love stories in sitcom history, but it also serves as a nice dose of (glossy, because everyone’s gorgeous – it is still television, after all) reality: lead character Mindy does not let herself get pegged down or labelled, and she always follows her heart.

As Mindy prepares to tell Danny the news that will change their lives forever, here are the 10 most important life lessons the show has taught us – which Mindy might one day pass on to her own children, wink wink:

10. Don’t pin labels on yourself and others

In our society, we are obsessed with labels. High school culture has taught us that people are supposed to fit into neat little boxes: the loser, the nerd, the math kid, the bookworm, the cheerleader, the jock, the stoner, etc. But nobody is just one thing (and if they seem to be, you’re not looking hard enough).

Sometimes the cheerleader is also the neglected middle child, who loves to paint and dreams of being a marine biologist. Sometimes the bookworm loves extreme sports, and helps her disabled grandpa with the gardening in her free time.

Sometimes, the self-professed “slutty” girl looking for love is also a career-oriented OB/GYN with an excitable, innocent mind. And sometimes the handsome jerk in the office who only dates supermodels turns out to be a gingerbread house-making, badly piano playing big brother with abandonment issues, who thinks you’re beautiful just the way you are.

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9. Don’t ever think you have someone ‘figured out’

Similarly to the above point: in a society that bombards us with one-word definitions, snappy headlines, slogans and titles, we may begin to see ourselves and others as easily defined one-dimensional products, judging people based on their clothes and looks and the first three sentences that come out of their mouths.

But even though society has conditioned us to recognize people as “types,” don’t ever think you know what’s really going on inside someone else’s mind. People are wonderfully adaptable, versatile and constantly evolving beings; anyone can surprise you at any time by revealing a sliver of new information about themselves.

So be open: treat everyone you meet as a blank slate, and cut through cliché smalltalk in order to make real conversation. Human beings are not pre-defined, predictable characters in the story of your life.

8. People can change – but they shouldn’t always have to

Okay, so say you do have someone figured out. Maybe you’ve known them for years, and seen them deal with everything life’s thrown at them. And you’re starting to believe that, for better or worse, they’ll always do or say what you expect.

But as seen in The Mindy Project, even the most stubborn, set-in-their-ways people can and will change, sometimes without anyone realizing. And real change doesn’t come via some grand gesture or an overnight change of heart (or even an impromptu trip to Haiti); it comes with small glances and quiet moments, thinking about what you really want and what you’re willing to compromise to make it happen.

When Danny and Mindy broke up in season 2, it was because Danny was afraid of change – or rather, he was afraid that he wasn’t able to change the way he thought Mindy wanted him to. He saw their incompatibilities, and (falsely) believed that their differences would destroy them. Although it seemed like a lame excuse, Danny was 100% serious when he said he wanted to break up to save their friendship.

The ironic thing was that we’d spent the past season and a half watching Danny change, slowly and incrementally, because of Mindy. He became less judgmental, less crass, more embracing of her quirks – and during the second half of season 2, Danny finally began to realise that maybe neither of them needed to make massive changes in order to be together. Maybe they just needed to accept each other (and themselves), and work from there.

7. Nobody’s perfect (and that’s okay)

Mindy has learned this lesson already, but as the audience, we’re continually surprised whenever our collective TV boyfriend Danny Castellano says or does something which makes him a less than perfect romantic prospect for Mindy. But just like real life, people have bad days and say mean things, and they make mistakes – which they’ll then spend the next half season making up for.

The Mindy Project itself has received some criticism for not being “perfect” – it drops characters, it struggles with the supporting cast, and sometimes storylines move too quickly. But in this way, the show kind of becomes more representative of real life than most sitcoms: things don’t always tie themselves up in neat little metaphorical ways, and sometimes even the nicest people make the wrong choices.

That doesn’t make them bad people, or mean you should give up on them. Respect yourself, and choose to surround yourself with people that bring value to your life (and the world), and whose lives you can bring value to in turn.

6. Friendships don’t always last forever

In season 1, Mindy visited a high school and dealt out some much-needed advice to the audience students: “You are obsessed with eternity. Everything is forever. [But] guess what? That stuff’s imaginary. You know what’s forever?”

When a starry-eyed girl replied, “friendship?” Mindy shot her down. “Herpes is forever,” people, nothing else. Except plastic. So recycle, yeah? (That’s my advice to you; Mindy had nothing to do with that.)

Sitcom and rom-com tropes have taught us that every “character” who comes into your life has some kind of part to play in your story: maybe their own current dilemma reflects on your situation, or maybe their sole purpose for existing is to teach you a lesson. Friendships have been especially glorified in this genre, being the constant factor in an otherwise turbulent whirlwind of boy and/or girlfriends. But real life isn’t always like that.

I’m not sure The Mindy Project is making this point intentionally when it keeps deleting people from the show’s memory, but it works none the less: first Shauna disappeared into thin air, then Gwen, then Mindy’s friends Alex and Maggie, and now Betsy. Some of her boyfriends have disappeared without warning too. Of course as a viewer this is frustrating – we expect closure; we expect Mindy’s life and circle of acquaintances to be consistent and easy to decode. But (although I still say a throwaway line about Shauna moving away wouldn’t have hurt anyone) it does kind of reflect real life.

You get busy with other things, you throw yourself into your job, a new relationship, or in Gwen’s case a family. You stop calling and making plans to meet up. Mindy probably still Facebooks Gwen all the time to gossip about Danny (at least I like to think so), but their friendship as we briefly knew it isn’t currently Happening. And that’s fine. Life goes on.

5. When life gets you down, lying on the floor is a valid coping mechanism

The fact that Mindy’s first instinct when her life sucks is to lie down on the floor in her office is not only hilarious, it’s also very relatable. If you didn’t already do this before The Mindy Project, try it out – this writer can personally recommend it.

Of course life coaches might tell you to get back up on that horse and ride out the crisis (and other horse-related metaphors, which may include a pun on the word “whinning”), but in real life, that’s not always a doable option. Sometimes you feel physically pushed down by your demons, and it takes real effort just to remain upright.

Acknowledging your physical fatigue and lying flat on the floor might actually be cathartic in that situation. Letting your body relax could clear your mind, giving you energy to think more rationally about the problem.

4. If at first you don’t succeed…

Aaliyah’s “Try Again” kind of became The Mindy Project‘s anthem in season 2, when Danny choreographed a dance to the song in order to cheer Mindy up after yet another failed attempt at finding true love.

Cheered up by his sweet gesture (and moves!), Mindy did try again, this time succeeding in winning Cliff’s heart (of course at that point, Danny had realized his feelings for her, and we all knew the Cliff thing would never last).

Mindy has dusted herself off and tried again countless times throughout the series, and her resilience is inspiring. Even after Danny himself broke up with her and she was once again left on her own, Mindy – heartbroken and disillusioned as she was – threw herself back into the dating pool straight away rather than wasting her time pining for a guy who seemed to have moved on to the first warm body he could find.

And when Danny told her he loved her and tried to get her back a few episodes later, Mindy stood her ground: “You love me until you don’t,” she told him, declaring that she needed something real. Once again, Mindy was dusting herself off and trying again, just as she’d always done. Not even Danny Castellano would break her resolve.

While we may not share Mindy’s opinion that finding your soulmate = eternal happiness, Mindy knows what she wants, and she won’t give up until she gets it. And that’s Mindy’s real strength: not that she doesn’t get knocked down, but that she always gets up again.

3. Not having things figured out is totally fine

(Sorry for The Office gif, but it was so perfect.) Let’s face it, we’re obsessed with Instagram perfection. Social media has allowed us to construct our lives like we’re characters in a movie: we can crop and cut and embellish and censor, until our profiles consist of only the best and brightest parts of our lives. (We’re even encouraged to do so: how many times have we seen others mocked for sharing “unsavoury” pictures or life details online?)

This leaves young people of all ages freaking out about not being as perfect or put-together as they think their friends are. But life is a process. I say again: life is a process. You’re NEVER going to have everything figured out. And then, suddenly, life is over – do you want your last thought to be about all the things you never accomplished because you were too busy trying to get the perfect waist/teeth/hair/nails? No. You wanna look back at all the crazy sh** you had fun doing, all the awesome things you went out and made happen for yourself.

Live your life while you have it, and enjoy the hell out of your hot bod and beautiful smile, and do everything you want to do in the best way you possibly can. Life happens right now, and all the time, not at some point in the future when you’ve ironed out all the imaginary kinks that hold you back.

2. Confidence is EVERYTHING

It’s kind of unfair to use Mindy Kaling as an example of this, because duh, of course she’s confident. She’s beautiful, hilarious and successful. Flaunt it if you got it, right?

But none the less, in the context of the show, Mindy Lahiri is the first one to acknowledge that she is literally one in a million: although television is a lot better at representing minorities than the movie industry, the vast majority of female characters on TV shows are unfortunately still tiny, petite, light-skinned 20-something-year-olds. And The Mindy Project has even seen a backlash for having the audacity (!) to challenge this image. But screw that. No one likes a hater.

One of the many awesome things about Mindy Kaling is that she is so decidedly unapologetic about putting herself on television just as she is (Mark Darcy would be proud), and having her character seduce hot guys left and right without first feeling the need to shrink herself to a size negative 4.

Watching the show is crazy inspirational, because it reminds us that people are just people – and ultimately it’s all about how you move within the body that you have. You don’t have to hide away at home, thinking you’re not good enough to carve yourself a place in this world unless you were born looking like Jennifer Lawrence/Lopez/Hudson/Garner/Aniston… seriously, are there any non-insanely-hot Jennifers? Anyway.

Some of the best laughs in the show come from Mindy’s no-nonsense approach to criticism. With only a few exceptions, Mindy has rolled her eyes in the face of anyone who’s made nasty comments about her physique. “How dare you, everyone knows I have huge knockers,” “I am not overweight, everyone knows I fluctuate between chubby and curvy,” and “I look like Keira Knightley running errands” are just a few of the brilliant, self-affirming moments that make us laugh with her, not at her.

1. Always, always be yourself (and/or Beyoncé Pad Thai)

Whenever Mindy tries to be something she’s not, she fails miserably. This is probably very intentional from the writers’ side: after all, you can’t find true happiness with someone else until you have accepted yourself. And you can’t go through life wearing a mask.

One of the most groundbreaking things about The Mindy Project is that our lead character Mindy dares to just be Mindy: bearclaw-loving, exercise-hating, beautiful, successful, awkward, brave, and everything else that comes with the package.

She is brutally honest about how she feels, and lets her emotions guide her decisions (for better or worse). At 30-ish, Mindy knows what she likes, what she wants, and what she can and cannot do – and the world just has to deal with that. We could all stand to be a little bit more like Mindy (er, by being ourselves, not by being Mindy. That would defeat the point).

Don’t forget, The Mindy Project returns tonight with “Dinner at the Castellanos!” Are you as excited as we are?

What has ‘The Mindy Project’ taught you about life?

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