Every few months, I get wrapped up in a deep melancholy – one might even describe it as something like a mild depression. I become convinced that I have somehow wasted my life, that the thirty five years I have spent on this Earth amount to very little in terms of making the world a better place.
Whenever I get into that kind of funk, it takes me a while to really see the signs of it. I usually start skipping out on things that I typically enjoy or typically do as part of my daily routine. I stop being careful about what I eat. My sleep gets really irregular in that I’ll fall asleep at 9 PM one night and 1 AM the next.
The sooner I recognize the signs, the better, but it always takes me a little while to work out of the funk. I do that by carefully and repeatedly reminding myself of all of the important people in my life that care about me and all of the things I’ve accomplished (as I can point to several large professional things I’ve personally achieved). On top of that, of course, I can also point to my savings as a demonstration of the repeated good financial choices I’ve made.
For me, at least, pulling myself out of an emotional funk relies on the things I’ve achieved in life. Because of that, I know that when things are going good, I have yet another reason to make good little choices every single day, particularly ones that build into something bigger.
Let me show you what I mean. Let’s say that I make the choice every single day to find some way to save $10. I can do that by choosing to eat a less expensive meal at home or by skipping a drink or two or by brown bagging my lunch. I might find it easier to get there each day if I’ve done things like properly inflating my car tires or air sealing my home. If the average American takes little steps like these in a given day, I’m pretty confident they can put aside $10 each day.
I put that $10 in a jar and then once every couple of weeks, I deposit it in a savings account.
Three months later, I get into a funk. I convince myself that I’m making no forward progress in my life and that I’m not really going anywhere.
If I’ve been following through with that $10 a day, I can look at my savings account balance and it will be somewhere around $925. That’s a start. That’s a big start, actually. Even more than that, it’s proof to myself that I can start making big changes in my life.
Perhaps after that, I’ll try to save $20 a day. Perhaps after that, I might get into better shape. Perhaps after that, I might start working on a big independent professional project, like writing a book.
All major life changes revolve around making a little change each day. Maybe you spend an hour or two hours in the evening reading a challenging book instead of watching television. Maybe you spend 30 minutes a day doing some form of exercise. Maybe you strive to put $20 a day into a coffee can under the sink (and put the contents of that can into the bank at the end of the month).
Those changes are little, but they add up. In three months, you’ll have read several mind-enhancing books, improving your understanding of the world. In three months, you’ll be in better physical shape, which you’ll feel in almost every aspect of your day to day life. In three months, you’ll have almost $2,000 in the bank.
A simple change a day adds up to something big, something you can point to as clear evidence that you’re not wasting your life. Here are some more ideas.
Be genuinely kind and helpful to one person (or two people or ten people). Help a person with a task, say something truly kind to them, or listen when they need it. After three months, these little interactions add up to better lives in everyone around you, which is bound to lift you up.
Cook one meal at home from scratch – not a boxed meal. In three months, you’ll likely have saved a fistful of cash, plus you’ll be a far better home cook than before. Making meals for yourself (and your family) will seem far easier and more natural than before and your family’s health will also improve.
Spend one hour writing a rough draft of a book. Try to get 500 words down on paper each day. At the end of three months, you’ll have close to 50,000 words down, which is a short novel. At the end of six months, you’ll have nearly 100,000 words down – a fairly long novel. Revise it and look into publishing it.
Spend one hour learning a foreign language – Duolingo is a great free way to start. In three months, you’ll be at a level where you’ll be able to conduct a simple conversation in another language, making travel to an area where that language is spoken much easier and more fulfilling and making communication with other professionals who speak that language much easier as well.
Spend one hour learning how to program your computer in a new computer language. Spend thirty minutes collecting food for the local food pantry, and spend an hour or two one day a week delivering that food and helping with odds and ends there. Spend an hour building a specific skill you could use to do your job better… or developing a system to make your job routines get done faster.
Spend a little bit of time each day building something bigger than just the tasks of the day. Do that for even just a little while and it’s pretty hard to believe that you’re actually wasting your life. When you have a sense that you’re not wasting your life and that you’re building towards bigger things, it becomes easier and easier to make choices in your life that aren’t just about immediate fulfillment. You’re building towards things – lots of things.
It becomes easier and easier to look at yourself in the mirror and realize that your life is more than just the sum of its ordinary parts.