7 days ago history slammed the door on the nasty, no good year 2020. Optimists, like myself, hoped for a new year filled with beach weather, double rainbows, and all around love and cheer.
Thus far that has not been the case.
The new year brought with it a more contagious mutation of the Coronavirus, a coup attempt in the United States, and a continuation of the all around bitterness that feels like a sign of the times. There’s no way to sugar coat it; 2021 will likely be another tumultuous year.
As I get older, I believe maintaining your sanity over the course of a calendar year is a feat worthy of praise and plaudits. This is doubly true in the plague filled, hyperpolarized times we’re living in.
That’s why I’ve come up with 5 ways to stay sane in the (likely) insane year ahead of us. I hope at least one of them gives you a needed dose of comfort in crazy times.
Gratitude? The world sucks right now, what do I have to be grateful about?
I’ll start with this. If you have the ability, time, and means to read this article you’re better off than well over 99% of people who have ever lived.
Go back around a hundred years and the world is limping in the aftermath of the first World War: a global crisis which took 20 million lives, and left over 20 million more maimed, wounded, and psychologically scarred.
Go back a thousand years and you’d likely be a peasant. Your day would consist of going to work, then coming home to a crowded hut in an overcrowded village. Most of your children would die before they were born. Those who survived would live, on average, 35 years.
I don’t mention these grim facts to make people feel guilty. I mention them to show that in spite of our current circumstances we’re lucky to be alive at this point in history.
There are an infinite number of realities we could have been born into. We have a nasty tendency to focus on the ones that are better than the one we live in. We don’t consider that there are many other lives we could live that are far worse than our own.
If you feel down during the new year, take a moment to list the things you’re grateful for. These can be items big and small. This simple act grants you a renewed perspective and appreciation for what you have. You may even realize that while things suck from time to time: this is an incredible moment to be alive.
Have A Zero Tolerance Policy For Toxicity
Imagine your brain as a pristine pasture. Think of each person you spend time with, each activity you engage in, and each piece of content you consume as a guest in this special place.
What type of guest are they? Do they tidy up, plant flowers, and generally make this a sacred spot. Or do they litter, poison the river, and turn your valuable real estate into a trash heap.
Your mind is your most precious resource. Yet too often we pollute it. We invite crappy content and crappy people in to stay. These unwelcome guests become squatters in our psyche. They take up room, devalue us, and suck our energy.
This year I want you to be ruthless about who and what you allow to take space in your head. This applies to activities you engage in, the people you hang out with, and who you follow online.
Purge relentlessly. Lean on the side of savagery. If you get an inkling icky feeling about someone or something, cut them out. It doesn’t have to be forever, just long enough for you to reclaim your headspace.
Think of this as an act of generosity, not cruelty. You’re not trying to hurt anyone, you’re simply prioritizing your mental health.
Reconsider Your Relationship With Social Media
Trashing social media, usually over social media, has become a global pastime for the more enlightened members of the web. I don’t want to join the crowded voices and tell you to deactivate your Facebook account; but for the sake of your sanity, it may be wise to reconsider your relationship with social media.
I have mixed feelings about the Netflix documentary on the subject. For a more nuanced take, I recommend Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism. Instead of blanket condemnation, he asks his readers to consider their values and question whether social media best serves what they care about.
If you value education, is social media the best way to educate yourself? If you value kindness, is social media making you a more caring person? If you value your emotional health, is social media making it easier or more difficult to exist in an already complicated world?
Answers will differ from person to person, but everyone (and their sanity) can benefit by asking the question.
Seek Out Timeless Wisdom
Have you heard of the “appeal to novelty”? It’s a human fallacy where we assume new and novel things have more value. It’s the reason marketers peddle designer drugs and fad diets. It’s why people line up for blocks to buy the latest Iphone every year.
The “appeal to novelty” is perhaps most evident in the information sphere. Our modes of consumption (see rant above) have injected jet fuel into this fallacy. In the era of 24 hours news and endless social media feeds, novelty is king. All news is “breaking news” that one must react to.
This novel approach rewards half considered, yet infernally hot takes, and disregards more reasonable and thoughtful views.
We are not the first humans to live through challenging times. People have dealt with misinformation, pandemics, and political scandals long before the advent of the internet.
To stay sane and better informed during the new year seek out time tested sources of knowledge: ideas and books that are hundreds even thousands of years old. If something has been around for that long, it speaks to a universal truth. One that has lived many lives, and endured in different cultures and epochs.
Wisdom is knowledge without an expiration date. Look back. Consume content with lasting value. Be a connoisseur of timeless insight. These are the places where you will find peace.
When Something Disgusts You; Do The Opposite
In the new year you will come across many opinions and people you find disagreeable. If you’re anything like me, your first instinct will be revenge. To slander, shame, and vilify that nasty person with all the godlike powers in your smartphone.
Sound tempting? If so, please try this instead.
Pause. Take a breath. Now pat yourself on the back. Thank whatever deity or non deity you believe in that you are not the person who disgusts you.
Cursing someone out changes nothing. We delude ourselves that this righteous anger makes others see the folly of their ways or exposes them as a fraud, crook, or asshole.
If we succumb to this eye for eye approach are we any different from the person we despise? Are we both not adding fuel to a noxious fire? Might our best course of action be to do the opposite?
Marcus Aurelius put it best when he wrote “the best revenge: is not to be like your enemy.”
When something or someone infuriates you, use it as an opportunity to practice your values.
When others sow anger: you will sow kindness.
When others sow negativity: you will sow positivity
When others sow meanness: you will sow compassion.
You are the one person in the world you can control. Take this obligation seriously. It may not be a lot; but it’s all you have. As Sufi poet Rumi said:
“If everything around seems dark, look again, you may be the light.”