It’s so easy to feel like the world and everyone in it’s gone batty. We have a morally vacant and cowardly government. We have a mass shooting once a week. And we can’t even binge on Netflix to escape because (surprise!) our favorite actors, directors and producers are also sexual predators. That’s the world around us, not including personal dramas that poke and tear into our lives like a thorn bush opens skin. It’s a daily chore to stay positive.
Every little thing feels as if it's designed to distract. Like cell phone notifications. Every app wants you to check in, to update, to rate, to respond. If we allow them to, we can spend every waking hour reacting to the asinine screen notifications popping up every five seconds. Typically, none of it matters. It’s a kaleidoscope of little bits and pieces that goes nowhere in the end. Around and around like the wheel. The feeds and the media friends we follow manipulate us into a bipolar existence. We're migrating from outrage to sadness to envy and back to indignation again. It’s emotionally exhausting.
There is a secret antidote to all of this tiresome buzzing. There is a way to re-center and feel good. And you don’t need a peyote fueled vision quest or an intensive colon cleansing in Topanga.
What is this magic elixir?
It’s called ignoring social media and killing the newsfeed. Instead, spend time with actual friends.
Maybe you don’t have any friends. Me either. Go find the ones you used to have. That's what I'm up to these days.
I recently returned to LA for a week of visitations with friends. Made the physical journey like some kind of pilgrim. We did old fashioned things like sitting on the couch and talking. We played records on the HiFi. It sounds simple, perhaps even stupid. But unplugging and spending with live people you like invigorates in ways the electronic substitutes cannot. No, I really wasn’t super into sitting through side two of Dionne Warwick Sings Burt Bacharach but that’s what friend’s are for.
I arranged to see a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in years. About a dozen of us met, in different places, on different days and in different combinations of people. Each group that got together was excited and surprised to see one another. Some people lived miles apart but hadn’t talked in a decade.
By the end I noticed two types of people: those who were happy and content and those who were not. The people who were happy hadn’t always been happy. But they’d challenged themselves to grow and change in productive ways. The people who were unhappy have not always been unhappy. But they’ve done the safety dance: avoiding situations that will challenge them to grow, accepting unfulfilling relationships, sticking within their comfort zones. It seemed to me that safety has killed their happiness. The safe road (and changeless road) is miserable.
Those people who’re happy right now might not be content forever. But they’ll bounce back. Each of them has built an internal foundation of happiness. They’ve found self-worth through the forge of discovery.
The people who’re unhappy will be unhappy for a very long time. They never bothered to challenge themselves to change. They’ve let the forge grow cold and cannot see new perspective through self-discovery. They rarely look inward. They’re looking elsewhere, to the outside world (with all of its craziness). This is where the unhappy people are trying to find that source of contentment.
It isn’t too late for the discontented to find comfort. Anyone can build that foundation of self-worth, even if it’s been years. I was in a bad way (depressed, suicidal and self-medicating) for thirty years. I changed myself by deconstructing the self-critical, negative though patterns I held and constructing a framework of acceptance and self-love. It starts with wanting that change. It starts with believing that change can happen.
One basic tool for jump-starting positive change is putting down the electronic media. Just do it for a day or two. No emails or Facebook. No hours of texting. No Instagram or Snapchat or Reddit. Instead, visit with friends. Challenge yourself to stop what you’re doing and actually make the effort to go see people. Remind yourself what it’s like to hang out and simply be. It seems simple but people do it less and less. Since the rise of the smart phone, sociologists have been tracking a sharp increase in screen time and a sharp decrease satisfaction. They attribute this to the mistaken belief that a post or a text or a status update is the same thing as actual social interaction. It is not. Using social media as the only way to connect is easy and expected. It’s a safety dance.