Growing up, my parents were always late. Late for every family gathering. Every Thanksgiving dinner. Every show or movie or event that was occurring. It was maddening and embarrassing. But I had no choice, I couldn’t drive myself to these gatherings.
As adults we often model our parents’ worst and best behaviors- smoking, committing suicide, being religious, being kind to our spouses, etc. So, for much of my adult life I was late to everything. Everything. It drove people crazy, put me in some serious binds, and made my life a lot more difficult and stressful. In my 40s, I’ve finally realized, I DON’T HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY ANYMORE.
So I started radically simplifying my life- focusing on faith, family, and self-improvement- and started arriving a little bit early to appointments and dinners and meetings. And I couldn’t believe how great it felt to do so. I could sit there, take a few breaths, and be free to focus on other things.
Plan ahead and plan well. Makes life a lot easier.
Atheism is bad for your health. How, you say? Well, it forces you to fill up your time with something other than religion. Religion is imperfect, but it gives a person some structure.
For another, atheism enables the flourishing of anxiety and depression. In a religious tradition you are supposed to put God first, never yourself. So the endless ruminating and dwelling in one’s own mind and about one’s own problems yields unnecessary self-destructive thoughts.
Then there is the absence of moral guidance. For years I argued with my conservative religious friends about who was more “moral.” I was a liberal and I was wrong. In my travels I learned that without a religion humans are deeply confused about right and wrong. Not the big things. All but the sociopaths get the big things, but we are confused about the smaller ways that we choose good and evil, right and wrong, leaving us vulnerable in the modern world.
Most people suffer from depression at some point in their lives or know someone who has. Here are seven things a depressed person can do to make life better almost immediately:
Establish a morning routine. Do you wake up at your girlfriend’s one morning, on your couch the next, and occasionally in your own bed?That needs to stop. A morning routine is critical to healthy functioning and when you start the day in disarray it usually only gets worse from there. So, wake up at roughly the same time every day, drink a glass of water, and do what you need to do to have a productive day.
Exercise. If you hate it, find a way to make it fun. It doesn’t have to be running marathons. Try rowing or swimming or bicycling or playing hoops. Again, just do something. And if you have a REALLY hard time doing it, then do it FIRST THING IN THE MORNING!
Build a spiritual practice. Buddhism, Catholicism, Quakerism, whatever. You might even be able to persuade me of the benefits of being a Wiccan. Regardless, though, JUST DO SOMETHING. Create a practice that helps you stay centered every day AND serves as a beginning or end point for every week. I know, I know, we all hate going to church. So add some fun to it like brunch or a giant latte or donuts. It’s important for many reasons. Foremost, it connects you with other humans. As a society we are facing an epidemic of loneliness. We need connection to other people. Try church, synagogue, meeting house, AA, whatever. Just something.
Make time for gratitude. You know when you’re sitting in Chick-fil-a on a road trip and you look over and the family next to you is praying before eating their meal? Yes, it’s awkward and a little embarrassing, but if you were to take 30 seconds 3 times a day to REMIND YOURSELF HOW FORTUNATE YOU ARE it might improve your outlook.
Figure out the patterns. We all have patterns of behavior that we repeat in our lives. Take some time to figure out which ones are holding you back. Are you overly focused on the superficial? Are you living up to your values? Do you keep dating the same types of people? It never hurts to work with a therapist, a coach, or even an app to help you figure things out.
Make a change. Maybe it’s time to get a new job or end a relationship or get a pet or move to a new city. Sometimes a dramatic change can shake you out of a rut. Now, don’t do anything that will hurt you in the long run- run it by a few people first- but explore the possibility of changing your situation, even if only for a period of time. Another simple idea- plan a vacation. Having something fun to plan and look forward to is half the fun!
Forgive yourself and others. Forgiving yourself is never easy and forgiving others isn’t always smart, but generally speaking, going down the path of forgiveness will only yield benefits for you. Explore readings and writing on forgiveness that might help you work through some of your thoughts and if nothing else works, try medicine.
It’s that time of year when we are supposed to recognize our fathers despite raising us under the inherent tyranny that is family life. Here are a few ideas to help you be the best dad you can be, whether your kid deserves it or not. Kidding! They all deserve the best you can offer.
Put the phone down and pay attention! This is perhaps the most important bit of advice I can offer. For at least a little while every day, spend time with your kids without any other distractions. None. Focus! You’re kid will appreciate it greatly and you’ll remember it for years to come.
Carve out one-on-one time with each kid regularly. This is obviously easier in some families than others, but try to spend that one-on-one time on at least a weekly basis. Maybe every Saturday morning or every Sunday afternoon. With some flexibility, of course.
Remember you are being watched. I was watching my 4.75-year-old eat cereal the other day and after he had finished scooping out and eating the O’s, he picked up the bowl and drink it down like a hungry orphan. This is something I learned my from father and he learned from his, no doubt. Anyway, everything you do is being watched carefully. And eventually, much of that behavior will be acted out. So behave yourself.
Educate yourself a little. There are more and more resources available to parents. In the DC area, we have a fantastic organization called the Parent Encouragement Program that offers dozens of classes online and in-person on positive parenting. I’ve taken a few. Very helpful.
Take good care of yourself. If you are responsible for others, whether financially or otherwise, it’s critical that you make sure they are cared for and supported. Eat healthy. Exercise. Go to the doctor. It’s not that hard and it’s very important.
Play rough with your boys. There is some evidence that ADHD is linked to a lack of rough play in childhood. There are some who argue that it may just be a sleep deficit. I’m on the fence. I have it. I’m just not sure what causes it.
Try to get along with the mother of your child. This may be the hardest one, especially in cases of divorce, but it’s important. Really try!
Being an orphan is a tragic thing. I know, I was raised by one. It’s even worse when you try to go through life without moral and ethical guidance. I tried. For 40 years, I thought I was a good person and that being so was enough to get by in life. It’s not. Because you need the other people in your life to adhere to a moral code, too.
There is a wisdom to religion that Sam Harris and the New Atheists don’t grasp. It is the wisdom of how to live day in and day out, week in and week out. Live with gratitude and work towards a cause much greater than yourself. There is nothing wrong with accepting some help from a father or the Father.