Even those without apocalyptic tendencies are finding it difficult not to become despondent these days. It seems impossible that the situation in the middle east will not end horribly if it ends at all; half the continent of Africa is AIDS-infected and the other half is either a perpetrator or victim of genocide; the icecaps are melting. It is an especially tough time to be an American: The rest of the world has always hated us, but never before have we not blamed them. To top it off, it looks like we’re soon to be prohibited from bringing iPods and laptops on the plane, for fuck’s sake. I’d rather get blown out of the sky.
To sustain your own happiness, I recommend that you adopt the following strategies.
1. Eat a mango every day. Let me quote from Andrew Weil’s The Marriage of the Sun and Moon.
An Indian I met in Bombay told me that at the height of the season, people lie on the sidewalks with glazed looks of ecstasy as they let ripe mangos drip into their mouths. In his Autobiography of a Yogi, the late Paramahansa Yogananda wrote that it is impossible for a Hindu to conceive of a heaven without mangos. Recently I came across the following exchange between the great Hindu saint, Ramakrishna, and his chief disciple, Narendra:
Narendra: Is there no afterlife? What about punishment for our sins?
Master: Why not enjoy your mangos? What need have you to calculate about the afterlife and what happens then and things like that? Eat your mangoes. You need mangos.
2. Exercise in the morning. Waking up to an alarm is the worst part of the day, and waking up to an alarm that sounds an hour earlier is more painful, but that additional pain is psychological, not real, as the amount of pain you feel on hearing your alarm sound is only loosely correlated with how long you’ve slept. So play mind games with your mind games: focus on how great it is to get out of bed to exercise, which brings joy, rather than getting out of bed to go to work, which brings tribulation. Offer yourself an incentive to rise an hour earlier, such as a mango. After you’ve exercised, the day, no matter what happens, is already a success. Work ends with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, rather than the usual dread that now you’re exhausted and have to go to the gym, which half the time you don’t do because you’re too exhausted, which you then feel guilty about. First thing in the morning is the time for exercise.
3. Make progress on your A tasks. This is my plug for the 43 folders lifestyle. A tasks are projects that, when completed, will offer lasting improvements to your life. Completed B tasks improve your life in the short term, and C tasks do not improve your life at all. The problem is that our to-do lists are filled with C tasks, like paying the electric bill or going grocery shopping. Though we love to check these items off our to-do lists, and we feel so accomplished having checked them off, the evil of C tasks is that the accomplishment we feel is false. C tasks need to get done, but completing them just keeps you from falling behind. Only A and B tasks move you ahead, so put off renewing your driver’s license for writing the next chapter in your novel or looking for a better job, not the other way around.
4. Keep your friends close. Lovers come and go, family is there forever no matter what, but your friends will keep you sustainably happy if you make the effort to keep them close. Keep them in your life – your daily life. That doesn’t mean you have to communicate every day, but you’re in trouble when all you can talk about is the big stuff like milestones, or reminisce about when you were in each other’s daily lives. It turns out that the milestones are the same for everyone, which makes them empty conversation pieces, which is strange because they feel like they should be really important. Satisfying conversations are built on details, the more irrelevant the better. If you haven’t spoken in a while, cover the big stuff in five minutes and spend your time talking about the fabulous curry you just whipped up or what you were thinking about this morning on the subway. Your college friends can stay daily friends through group email. Without any introduction or conclusion, write down what you said to the girl who was standing next to you today at the salad bar and send it to those seven peeps you’ve been meaning to call. Or start a blog and get your friends to read it.
5. Avoid instant messaging. IM is an acceptable medium for dialogue, if you’re a woodpecker. There is something about communicating in acronyms and emoticons that drains the soul.
6. Go out without corrective lenses. All day you wear your contacts or glasses and see clearly. If you make a habit of socializing without them, you will soon come to associate the blurry haze of myopia with the good feelings that accompany flirtation and inebriety. After enough repetition, the simple act of walking out of your apartment with uncorrected vision loosens you up. It’s like the first drink of the evening is on Pavlov.
7. Presort your laundry. Laundry is the paradigmatic C task; therefore, because time is your most valuable resource, you are charged with minimizing time spent doing laundry at all costs. The most obvious approach is to expand your wardrobe in such a way that you can lengthen the interval between laundry days, but if you’re not ready for that investment, an easier strategy is to get another hamper and divide your dirty clothes into whites and colors as you go. Couple this with making sure everything tossed into its proper bin is right side out, and be amazed at how much time you shave off this day-wasting chore.
8. Shower frequently.
9. Balance the ugly with the beautiful. Consumption of current events media is self-reinforcing, because as you learn more of the world’s horrors, the more interested in them you become. For some, this spiral culminates in activism, much to the annoyance of their friends. Most of us won’t end up in this unfortunate state, but because world news makes competing interests seem unimportant, we run the risk of saturating ourselves with misery. Counter this by being mindful of your consumption of news, news commentary, history, and politics; demand equal time spent on media that instead makes you glad to be alive. If you need some suggestions, you can start here, here, here, or here.