As a 23-year old graduate student working part-time as a cook, looking down the barrel of mountains of student loans, I am basically an expert on life.
I hope you detected the sarcasm in that statement, as I fully believe I have no idea about anything in life. But, fortunately for me, does anyone really have it “all figured out?” I’ve written before about simplicity, and I feel living simpler is ultimately an upgrade in one’s life.
No matter what the current state of your life is, I have some suggestions about how to improve it, even if marginally so.
Stress is an ugly, cancerous issue every person with a pulse will ultimately have to deal with. Money issues, relationship problems and careers can all lead to devastating amounts of stress. While some stress is impossible to deal with, other things can be easily handled. While I realize this statement is far easer said than done, I encourage anyone with a lot of their mind to get two thing; a pen and paper. Sit down, and write down literally every single thing on that list that’s stressing you out. Then, once you’ve probably expressed every ounce of stress, organize the list into two columns: “what I can control” and “what I can’t control”. Once you have two separate lists, throw the list of things you can’t control in the garbage. And forget about it. There’s a reason you can’t control those things, so dwelling on them will solve nothing. You should now be left with one list. Now, go down the list of things you can control, and begin hatching a strategy for attacking each item. Money problems? Start saving, pay off some depth, cut back on spending. If it’s a seemingly unfixable situation, consult a financial advisor. Seek help for your finances. Find someone to talk to. Relationship issues? Talk to your partner, seek counseling, plan a trip together. Fix what needs fixed. Can’t find a job? Practice. If you are a frustrated writer, (for example) start writing. Write every day. Keep trying. Do whatever you can to help yourself. Once a plan of attack is hatched to address the items on your list, put that strategy into action and fix some of the problems in your life. Be proactive and attack the stresses in your life, and destroy them.
5. Give your brain a workout
January is an amazing month because it comes with unparalleled amounts of optimism. It’s infectious and encouraging to see so many people attempting to make changes in their lives. However, in my brief time here on this fine Earth, I’ve noticed people are more interested in working out their physical beings, rather than working on internal issues. “Getting in shape”, although I have no data to support this, is the overwhelming favorite answer for “what’s your New Year’s resolution?” And I totally respect that. Wanting to look and feel better is an admirable goal, and anyone attempting to better themselves should be applauded. But, while people work on slimmer stomachs or bigger muscles, it seems as if the brain is neglected entirely. I’m not advocating reading IKEA manuals or catching up on the finer points of “The Art of War”, heck, I’m not even suggesting you actually pick up a book. You see, we live in a wonderful time, where books and newspaper are available right on the devices we hover around for 10 hours. Instead of reading gossip websites, watching YouTube videos or harassing others on comment boards, be more proactive with your down time. Read a news site, listen to music (really listen to it), start a blog. Write more than just 160 characters at a time. Read more than just status updates. Find short stories, poems, articles, anything that you can take information away from. Instead of watching television, kill it for even an hour a night and work on crosswords, or Sudoku. If you can’t stop watching television, watch something other than “Two Broke Girls.” Find a documentary. Encourage yourself to think critically about things. Ask questions, and then go on your computer and answer those questions. Keep your brain sharp.
4. More gatherer, less hunter
My mom is a vegetarian. Not in a hippie “save the environment” kind of way, but my mom just really loves animals. It’s a decision I respect her for not pushing on my dad, my siblings or myself, and looking back, she kind of has a point. A diet consisting of mostly red meat is a quick way to gain weight, get heart disease and be impossibly sweaty all the time. While most diet fads are ridiculous, aspects of each of them have their perks. Atkins encourages cutting carbs entirely. Instead of going full-on no carbs, consider switching things you eat. Buy whole grain pasta and brown rice (they basically taste the same) and cut out white bread, opting for whole or multi-grain breads. Paleo diets stress the importance of eating like a knuckle-dragging caveman. Instead of whatever they do, opt for a diet consisting of natural ingredients. Snack on granola, not potato chips. Substitute vegetables for starches, and save the red meat for special occasions, eating fish or poultry on the normal days. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Meat is delicious, but the wonderful protein it provides can be acquired elsewhere. And most importantly, drink lots and lots of water. You will feel better. Changing your diet isn’t always about losing weight or getting thinner, it’s a lifestyle change that allows you to feel better.
3. Take responsibility for a life
I’ll have children someday, but not for a while. But, instead, I have two cats. So it’s basically the same. At the risk of sounding like a crazy cat person, I feel it’s worth mentioning how rewarding caring for another living thing can be. Without Haley and I taking care of these two animals, they would die. Even things like changing their litter, playing and engaging with my cats pay off because I get that moment when you know another living thing loves you. Human love is awesome, I get to experience it every day and I’m so lucky for that, but it’s a different kind of feeling when a living thing you are responsible for appreciates your efforts and loves you back. I’m sure parents could probably more eloquently sum up what it’s like to care for a living thing that loves and trusts you instinctively, and that’s awesome for them. For now, I have to experience that responsibility and payoff with a pair of black cats. Caring for something that needs you also teaches you things about yourself. For example, our youngest cat, Pearl, has a weird obsession with scratching everything. Haley and I have an apartment, with Ace and Pearl pretty much allowed free rein to go wherever they want, with the exception of the bedroom. Since we got her, each morning Pearl waits outside of our bedroom door, meowing and scratching until one of us gets up to show her a little bit of attention. Once she’s satisfied with the amount of attention she’s received, she leaves us alone. As annoying as it is to be awoken at 8 am on a Saturday by a cat, it’s kind of heartwarming to know she literally just craves our attention. That’s a rewarding feeling.
2. Believe in something
I consider myself a Christian, but I’m not here to push people towards religion. Obviously, religion is a great thing to believe in. In my case, the Bible acts as a blueprint (not a rulebook, as some suggest) as a way to appropriately live your life. Doing good for others, loving others as yourself, being selfless, not killing your neighbor, etc are all things humanity should strive for, regardless of their views of Christianity. Whether you accept this fact or not, what you believe in often defines who you are. If politics are where your hardcore beliefs reside, then you can probably be lumped into a category. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So often, we are taught to be individuals, not conforming to the norms and rules of societal pressures. Why? There’s nothing wrong with being labeled, so long as that label is appropriate. Most of the time people get the labels as the results of an action. The guy who storms into a fast food restaurant and yells at the teenage cashier because he only got six packs of ranch instead of seven is going to be labeled as a jerk. Likewise, the woman who donates her free time to helping homeless children will be labeled as a gracious person. Believe in something greater than yourself, and it will allow you to live a more fulfilling life. If every decision is made with selfish intent, then you believe only in yourself, and that’s no way to go through life.
1. Slow down
A lot has changed for me over the past year. I’ve gotten married, moved, started a new job, began school and now have to begin considering career paths. One day, as I headed home from school in rush-hour traffic, I noticed something; I wasn’t upset. Before I moved, I was from a town with three stop lights. If I hit one of them I was in a near blind rage. Living in a highly populated metropolitan region like Pittsburgh, I was worried my road rage would get worse. For a while, I was right. Driving home sucked, driving to school sucked, driving to the store sucked. All that waiting began taking a mental toll on me, as I could literally feel the inflated blood pressure begin to give me headaches. And then, over time, I just…got used to it. The waiting. At a certain point, I just accepted I was going to sit in traffic for 45 minutes, so I turned on some music and literally would daydream. As unsafe as that may sound, keep in mind this is sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on a very congested highway, so my senses were still surprising alert. When I accepted the traffic situation would never get better, a tremendous wave hit me and I felt more at peace than I think I ever had. My mind became more active. I gave opposing drivers names and . I wondered where they were headed, how their day was at work. I simulated their lives, dreams and occupations in the time I spent in my car. It got to the point I welcomed the awful traffic. For me, it was the ultimate irony, as I sat in the middle of thousands of angry commuters in a major city, and I felt as if I was in the most peaceful place I’ve ever been. This taught me to slow things down in life. If you’re always in a hurry to move things along, new career, new house, new car, then you become fixated on “what’s next” rather than “what’s happening now.” You can think about past memories, and you can look forward to the future, but the present is constantly passing us by, so if you don’t pause to appreciate it, then you’re missing out on a good portion of your life. It’s clichéd to say, but the best advice I could possibly give someone is to just enjoy their life as it happens, learn from mistakes, and don’t dwell on the future. Let life happen, and you will live happier.