How I’m Staying Positive

Man, it’s been a long week.

I haven’t felt this scared and confused and embarrassed and disappointed since…well, roughly this time 12 years ago. I remember how vividly in the wake of W.’s victory I spiraled. Like, hard. I was depressed for months. Not sleeping, over-indulging, shutting people out. I was a total shit to my friends and colleagues. (I don’t even remember if I had a girlfriend at the time, but if I did: I’m really sorry.)

I was even worse to myself. I took the Democrat’s loss as a personal failure. I sought creative ways of hurting myself. It felt like The End.

But this time around, I’m staying positive. Not because I’m happy with the outcome, or because I’m blind to the realities of this election. But I’ve learned (the hard way) that just grouching around because things didn’t go my way won’t help anybody — myself included.

To quote my all-time favorite First Lady, “When they go low, we go high.”

And boy did we go low.

So to stay high, I’m focusing on the people and things I love, partaking in hobbies that energize me, and controlling my mindset. (I’m writing this piece to satisfy these very needs. So meta!) Some of these are already part of my routine, but I’ve tripled the dose to keep myself in check during this high-stress period. I’m a natural introvert, so energy management is a big deal for me, but I know from experience that it’s important, perhaps now more than ever.

Express gratitude at least once a day. I usually try to write in my journal a few times each week, but since last Tuesday I’ve returned to it as much as three times per day. These aren’t just “Here’s what I’m thinking” posts, though I still do some of those. These are Gratitude Entries, in which I write at least 50 words on something for which I’m grateful — ranging widely in scope and scale — and explain briefly why I’m grateful for it. Here are a few highlights:

  • A female candidate won the popular vote in America and I helped. Win or lose, that’s historic. People think the country is bitter and bigoted, but I won’t believe it thanks to the other 61,039,675 Hillary supporters. This is not the time to give up; our country needs us more now than ever.
  • My friends are the most amazing people in the entire world. They are kind and thoughtful and loving and ask for nothing in return. I’m honestly in awe of how lucky I am to be in their orbit.
  • Brooklyn is a magical place on a sunny and unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon. Everyone walks around with their chins up, smiling like they’re in awe of nature. As though the universe is doing them a favor and they want it to know how much they appreciate it.
  • I love lamp. (ed. note: I was in a hurry that morning.)

Even though I’d already written those in my journal, I feel better just transcribing them here. Gratitude, 1; election, 0.

Be nicer to strangers. George Saunders told the graduates of Syracuse University a couple years back, “Try to be kinder.” So I’m smiling more (even if I don’t feel like it), holding open doors a little longer, chit-chatting with baristas (even if I’m in a hurry), and thanking people for menial and quotidian things (even if they didn’t deserve it). As noted above, this is not my natural state, but it’s extra energy well spent, and has so far contributed to keeping my spirits aloft.

Do power poses. Thank you, Amy Cuddy. I do them in the morning, in the hallway before meetings, before I go to bed. I made my team do them at the beginning of our weekly meeting a couple weeks back, and it worked like a charm (well, at least I felt better. I think it weirded them out).

Add to this: high-fiving. It feels great to walk by someone at work and throw up a hand, get that familiar slap and sting from a well-executed five. It’s like an explosion of social endorphins.

Climb rocks. Some people meditate or do yoga to chill out. I’m down with that in general, but right now I’m coiled way too tightly for it. Short, controlled bursts really do the trick for me. So in the absence of boxing (my wrists gave up in the mid-’00s), bouldering is the closest thing I have to punching things. On my off days, I skip rope in front of the TV and watch old fights like this topical classic.

Write. This week I promised to spill my guts on the keyboard instead of letting bad feelings fester. In this way writing is a form of control, which is particularly important for me when things seem like they’re slipping (like now). So I worked on an old novel, started and finished a short story, and wrote two Medium posts — totaling more than 10k words since Tuesday. I’d feel markedly worse had I put that time into other escapist behaviors like video games or watching movies or just pacing the apartment like I tend to do when I’m stressed.

Hope for the best. To be fair, I’m barely on the sunny side of “withholding judgement,” but given the circumstances I’m calling it optimism. I have convinced myself of a few reasons why President Trump might not actually ring America’s death knell.

First, it’s likely he said a bunch of things he didn’t mean just to get elected — so it’s possible he won’t do much if any of it (to the chagrin of the right, and the delight of the left). Second, he’s ostensibly an Independent — so I don’t assume that he and Congress will be in full agreement over the next four years. Havoc may have to wait. Lastly, there is nothing Trump cares about more than Trump — so he’ll immediately be back on the campaign trail soon, and may avoid taking a stance on major issues until after 2020 (by which time the Dems might take back the House, or even reclaim the throne). I may be wrong about these things, but that’s why I don’t write for a political blog. I’m just trying to keep a level head in spite of it all.

Avoid political debate and one-sided media. This is important because people who feel like shit want others to feel like shit, too. They’ll get better and riled up and argue and try to drag others down. And The Media wants everyone to feel like shittiest shit that was ever shat because, you know, ratings.

If the subject comes up among people I trust, I will discuss it, but I will not argue. I have shared my limited thoughts when asked, but I don’t press if someone resists, and I’m vocal about the possibility of being wrong. I’m also actively avoiding The Media, whom I hold responsible for this whole thing in the first place (entertainment masquerading as information, tragedy profiteering, &tc).

There will be a time for action, for fighting back, and I will be ready for it. But right now people need positivity, and I’m gonna bring it.

Nobody really knows what’s next, so for me it’s about staying focused and grateful and productive in spite of all the unsettling uncertainty. Hopefully, I’ll keep these behaviors up for the next four years — maybe some will become routine or even succeed in making me a generally nicer and happier person (thanks, Donald!).

And while I’m concentrating on kindness, everything else can go ahead and just fuck right off.

See, it’s working already!

Thanks for reading, and best of luck to you.


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