This is a post to those struggling to get by, with little to look forward to and the days feeling dreary. I do not have answers. What follows are simply observations of what has/hasn’t worked for me that I wanted to pass along.
Create your own joy (and share it)
Much of life is mundane. I’ll spare my rant about tech making us think otherwise with the dopamine hits we’ve grown used to. There is very little that will excite you out of the box in this life. This means it’s normal and okay to feel a massive lack of excitement or thrill when faced with the everyday. That’s by design and I’ve come to accept this as a part of life that can be relied upon. If you wait for excitement or love or pleasure or meaning to just happen to you, you’ll both be waiting a long time and miss out on what you can do to have a rich, layered existence.
“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”― Neil deGrasse Tyson
One of my favorites ways to do this is to answer the following questions that start broad and get increasingly specific:
- What can I uniquely do in this part of human history?
- What can I uniquely do in this specific time of my life?
- What can I uniquely do in this specific location with these specific constraints?
For example, let’s say every single day for the next three months has to be nearly exactly the same because you’re working on a big project. Amazing. Within this, you are uniquely in a position of deep consistency for big pieces of your life. What can you fit in within that? Could you journal everyday as you go exploring what it feels like to be so constrained? Could you try to form new habits alongside this three month spell of sameness, since momentum will carry you in that direction? Could you have a dance party everyday at 5pm since you already know what each day will look like?
We’re all here at a weird point in human history in individual circumstances that allow and disallow different things. Embrace that! Nomading has taught me to play with these variables and to be aware of them. Better yet, share them with others.
Feelings are direction giving pieces of information
No feeling is inherently good or bad. We place value judgements on them (thanks, buddhism, for teaching me this). At the end of the day, it’s information about ourselves — how we make meaning, where we’re most vulnerable, what we might want out of life, etc. When I’m devastated by something now, I try to remember to ask myself why and to better understand what it might mean for how I want to live my life/who I want to live it with.
Tied to this, I do believe pain is meaningful and direction giving. When I’ve been in absolute agony about my life, I’ve thought long and hard about what would make it better. I’ve scribbled notes in my phone imagining wholly different existences for myself and have slowly worked my way to aspects of them. That insight never would have struck if the pain hadn’t. When pain hits now, I buckle in and try to listen up to what it’s telling me. Examine why you do what you do and soon you might just find you can choose differently, long before the pain hits.
Cultivate le petit bonheur, create absurdly alive moments, and remember Jasmine Paradise
I promise this will make sense after you finish reading this section. For now though, a quote to kick us off:
“There are times when it is hard to believe in the future, when we are temporarily just not brave enough. When this happens, concentrate on the present. Cultivate le petit bonheur (the little happiness) until courage returns. Look forward to the beauty of the next moment, the next hour, the promise of a good meal, sleep, a book, a movie, the likelihood that tonight the stars will shine and tomorrow the sun will shine. Sink roots into the present until the strength grows to think about tomorrow.”― Ardis Whitman
I regularly underestimate how much true improvements to my day to day life will impact me. For example, I started adding lemon juice to my water and now I’m actually moderately hydrated from time to time. Or I got a seat cushion for my reading nook in my new apartment and can sit there for longer than 30 minutes. What are things in your day to day life that might help? What things regularly are hard to manage? It reminds me of how, after a few years of fighting this aspect of myself, I finally succumbed to the fact that transportation while nomading stresses me out. Now, rather than shaming myself about it, I plan extra ways to make things easier. This includes budgeting the ability to throw money at the problem and get into a $100 cab ride to the airport.
I have never experienced the degree of sameness and monotony as I did during the peak of the pandemic. This set the backdrop for trying to do things that would shock me into being in touch with my days and weeks. It reminded me of my mom while nomading asking “Anne, how do we know we’re in [enter city]?” as we’d look around. How do I know it’s Tuesday? Or that it’s April? How do I know I’m even alive?! Cut to a friend’s very elaborate birthday dinner post vaccinations in the summer 2021 where I found myself repeatedly saying, “I want us all to feel abundantly and absurdly alive.” The gist is simple: do something so absurd that you feel more connected to this life. Bring others with you when you can (it’s more fun that way). It’s not so much saying yes to things. It could be embracing “no” and screaming it joyfully. It’s choosing differently. It’s starting from a blank slate and trying to rid yourself of the restrictions of certain norms. For me, the hardest yet most fun part is turning off my practical, rule aware brain and flipping any thought it has on its head. It’s usually where I get my best ideas for what to do. Plus horrible things will simply happen to you, to someone standing next to you, to a loved one, to a stranger, to an entire country. When I realized anything could happen to me, I decided to start making weird, absurd, ridiculous things happen too.
A dear friend once told me a funny story about a friend of a friend who essentially did drugs, had a vision about having a baby, and subsequently had a baby named Jasmine Paradise. While I regularly look out at people doing things I never would and ponder what it must be like to be them, this hit me differently. We can live this life however we want to within the systems that be. All over the world there are people living lives I could never imagine, both glorious and horrifying. Right when I feel most stuck, I try to remember this and laugh thinking Jasmine Paradise. There are so many ways to live this life. If this way of living isn’t working for you, have the courage to find another one.
To recap, when life feels utterly empty and I’ve had my fill of sitting those feelings, these three concepts tend to carry me through and shake me loose.
- Attend to the day to day life.
- Ground yourself in your life (through absurdity).
- Expand your larger perspective around ways of doing life.
Don’t wait for things to get extremely bad
Don’t wait for things to get extremely bad. They don’t need to be. You can do something now, even if it’s just talking to a friend or making a new friend or thinking about what kind of friends you’d like to have (I made a list during isolation in the pandemic). I’ve heard from a shocking number of friends the last few years how, because something hasn’t totally ruined their life, they aren’t going to take any steps to heal/gain insight/get help/put some guardrails in place/etc. I’ll say it again – horrible things will just happen to you in this life. It’s a gift to even have the chance to be slightly proactive. You won’t always be able to be. Don’t wait.
Connect with others (not necessarily about you)
Listen, ask questions, help, learn alongside, etc. Without fail, I find it helps me live my values, see my own problems in a new light, have a broader perspective, and help put some positivity out into the world. When you have the capacity to, abundantly give of yourself, get outside of your own narrow framework, and see how the world transforms. Plus, I don’t think many are thriving right now and the true way forward to me is still centered on community building.
Remember: when you’re through the worst of it, you’ll relish a normal day, even if it’s sprinkled with some angst and monotony.