Sometimes it feels like I’m holding the sky up with one hand, while juggling sandwich-generation family matters in the other. I know I’m not alone. Between our keeping Democracy alive and maintaining mental, physical and community health during turbulent times, living life on auto-pilot is not an option in my opinion.
Given the challenges we’re facing, I like to think that I do a decent job of walking the fine line of being a realist plus a hopeful optimist. And I’ve found some best practices that get me through these days with less drama and more groundedness. So in advance of the stressful season that is the winter holidays, I wanted to share some of them. I *know* they’ve made a difference in my life and I’m sure they can make a difference in yours.
Six Best Practices for a Steady, Calm and Hope-filled Life
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
This year I started my second 5-year gratitude journal. It’s a perfect prompt each evening to reflect on sources of gratitude from the day and jot down a few items. Some days it’s easy to do: “A lovely conversation with my daughter.” “A delicious meal with my husband.” “A walk in the cool sunshine.” And other days, it takes me a while to even come up with something basic: “A roof over my head.” “That we can afford to pay the orthodontist.” “Food on the table.”
I have no doubt that going to sleep feeling grateful is healthy, restful, and sets one up for a better start the next morning.
2. Get a regular dose of good news.
This one might sound impossible these days, but it is worth the effort to seek out good news. I have two great sources to share!
I discovered Future Crunch on Medium earlier this year and have since become a paid subscriber because I’m so grateful for what they do. They scour legit sources for positive, substantive, science-based news in a variety of areas — economic, environmental, health, technology, and more.
Another favorite is Yes! Magazine, which offers quarterly deep dives into thematic topics. They’re a nonprofit organization and a great example of insightful “solutions journalism”, which is in short supply these days.
Hope and optimism get activated when you take in good news, and that does wonders for countering the usual “if it bleeds it leads” news we’re used to. See for yourself: Try spending 10 minutes scanning the top “good news” of 2021 and 10 minutes scanning the top 2021 stories on CNN and take note how you feel after each one.
3. Do some form of daily meditation.
This has become a common directive, even in widely accessible popular culture magazines, where you can learn all about the benefits of meditation. Needless to say, once you fold in the habit of meditation, there are no downsides — only upsides.
A smartphone app helped me form the meditation habit over the past seven years. It may seem counterintuitive to mix technology with meditation, but that doesn’t stop me from singing the praises of Insight Timer. There’s both a subscription and a free version, offering countless guided meditations, music, talks, courses, and a simple timer with white noise and a chime. With minimal effort you can find what resonates for you, and before you know it, the habit will “take.”
My days go so much better when they begin with something as short as a 10-minute meditation, and I’m sure yours will too.
4. Move your body.
Okay, you don’t need a blog post from me to tell you why exercise is important and I won’t insult your intelligence by rehashing the basics. But if you aren’t already in some kind of physical movement routine, take this as encouragement to begin.
I confess that exercise bores me. I was not an athletic kid and competitive sports stress me out, so it took me some effort to build a habit. My go-to activities are ones where I can combine other loves: reading and learning. So I will blissfully walk 9000 steps while listening to an audio book or a podcast (music is great too), enjoying fresh air in the process.
If folding regular exercise into your life feels like more of a chore, create a hack like I did. When I’m in the middle of listening to a “page turner” book, I look forward to a really long walk — even if it’s uphill.
5. Be mindful about what you put out in the world.
As I have become more sensitive and aware of the world around me, I’ve also become more sensitive and aware of what I contribute to it. As a writer, I aim to put out content that offers a thoughtful re-frame, hope, or solution of some kind. Words are powerful and they shape the world we live in, so I try to choose them carefully, for example with language regarding gun culture. This also goes for what we share on social media, whether our own content or something we “endorse” with a Like or a forward.
Admittedly, it’s more of a challenge when needing to process something negative. But here too you can make conscious choices, such as finding a friend when you need to vent. Studies show why this is better than indiscriminate venting, and point to the main reason I try and live by this #5 tip: What goes around comes around.
6. Have a big-picture driver to live by.
When I was coming of age in the 1980s greed and “yuppies” were part of the zeitgeist, and an all-too-common goal was to get rich as soon as possible. That never sat well with me, and yet I was hardly a crunchy, hippy type.
It’s taken me a circuitous route and a few decades to realize that my core “driver” is to do my part in helping humanity evolve from a “me” attitude to a “we” attitude. While that’s a pretty broad motivating philosophy, it helps inform how I raise my kids, conversations I have, and goals in my life. Because I deeply believe, or know, that a shift from Me to We will change so many aspects of society for the better, it becomes an inner compass that naturally guides much of my life.
What’s an underlying motivator for you? Once you figure that out, it can help disparate aspects of your life fall into place.
So I hope that as life continues to unfold with all its twists and turns, one or more of these practices will keep you buoyant enough to keep on keeping on even better than before.
A version of this article was previously published in Change Your Life, Change Your Mind.