I have had a question at the bottom of my signature on the forum for a few years now. I have a lot of people tell me they like the “quote” – though it is not actually a quote- is just a question I ask myself and have asked many people when talking to them through the years here on SF. It says:
What are YOU doing TODAY to make Tomorrow Better?
If NOTHING, then do not be disappointed when tomorrow is not better…..
I put it on my signature line though not so much as a reminder to people I reply to – but mostly as a reminder to myself- my own mantra of sorts- about how to keep going when things get bad. It is misunderstood mostly because it is applied incorrectly. I get a lot of questions asking how it can be applied in their situation because there are not answers in their situation and things can’t change. All it is really saying is that every day is a chance to make something better for tomorrow.
I do not believe things get better spontaneously in most instances. The longer we wait to start working on a problem the longer it typically takes to find a solution. Problems have a way of getting worse over time and inaction, not better. That said, most people take my question far too seriously and try to apply it to the big problems in life first. Wife left them – what can they do to make that not an issue for them? Failed out of the University and can’t find a job, already applied for 200 jobs, what can they do to get a paycheck next Friday? What can they do today that solves those issues tomorrow?
The brain has a way of spinning things into a dark place of “how can you do something today to make those issues better” and if I can’t or you can’t answer that, then maybe it is okay to give up because we can’t change it anyway so… It often boils down to looking for a reason to stop trying and spending so much effort, to get the okay to stop trying just because the effort of continuing is so much and we are just plain tired.
My Ideas About Life
I emphasize “my” ideas because I can’t speak for everybody else and I can’t even be sure I am 100% right on everything I think. I just go with what has worked for me over the last few years.
Life is many things. There are the big things like work, family, relationships, health, financial situation etc. that effect everybody in some way or another. The commonality of all of them is they are big things and for the most part all include a great many things well beyond our personal control. We can’t control the economy, or the thoughts and actions of other people, and for the most part we are stuck with whatever health we are in as many of the big issues are the results of decisions made years before (or genetics) that we cannot change now.
This means in a couple sentences we have taken all the “big important” things in life off the table as out of our direct control because the most we can do is influence them- we cannot control the results. They have too many factors where we are at the mercy of fate/ other people/ luck/god- choose for yourself- but it is not all us, and not just our choices and decisions. Even the parts that are “us” often have components from the decisions of many years before that we can no longer change, so at this point in time with “What can we do today to make tomorrow better” it may be pretty hard to pick something that will have a direct and certain (much less immediate) effect.
I have a lot of health issues. I cannot cure them/fix them and they affect so many facets of life – virtually everything I do. I also have money issues like many people, real employment is not an option due to health, I lost a 6 figure income job due to physical health just as my kids were starting in university, I sometimes have family problems, basically no friends except a few online since I stopped working near 10 years ago, all I have is immediate family that even talk to me, chronic intense pain, and I could go on with the list. Many reading this have similar issues, and many more as well. This is the same list that had me searching for suicide methods 8 or 9 years ago when I found this site, and in all that time the big issues have not changed substantially. But things are much better now than they used to be, why?
People often try to compare their issues with somebody else’s, and both come away thinking something different about who is worse off. The reality is it doesn’t matter because we have to live our own lives, and the problems other people are dealing with do not make our lives better or worse. The problems other people have do not change our life. Just because they may have something “worse”, our life is not improved in any way, and we do not feel better because they have cancer and we do not. We also have to remember in the same way, the successes of other people do not make our lives worse.
Somebody else being happily married, having 2 luxury cars, a boat, and high paying job has no effect on our lives. The first place where many people make themselves miserable is while being very quick to agree that somebody else having bigger problems does nothing make their own problems better, they refuse to see that somebody else’s successes do not make their life worse. The only thing that can really affect our own life is the way we feel and react to our own life.
What is your life really? Is it politics and the economy and the laws and regulations and statistics of wealth and ownership and debt and all the other things we see on the news? Or is our life what we do when we get up, what we do in the day, in the afternoon, in the evening, and at night? Is it what the average dinner out costs in a large metropolitan area or is it what we have to eat right now for breakfast? I believe our life is really far more about our satisfaction or contentment about ourselves in any given moment or period of time. If there are a lot of good moments throughout the day, it is overall a good day. If there are not a lot (or none) it is a bad day.
What I Have Learned About Depression
I can directly change the way I feel tomorrow morning when I walk into the kitchen to make coffee by doing the dishes and picking up tonight before I go to bed. If my kitchen is nice and clean and smells good, if I can start the coffee and hear the birds out my windows at the bird feeder then my life can be actually okay for that few minutes in the morning- peaceful and relaxing- better because I did the dishes and picked up last night, and fed the birds yesterday.
If when I get up I have to make room in the sink to try to wash out a cup for my coffee while the smell of half sour milk from around the drain is all I notice, then I have to fill the coffee pot with water before I can make coffee, and clear off a place on table before I can even set my coffee cup down my morning is many things- but it is not nice or relaxing. It becomes just another indicator of the worthlessness of my life.
Pretty specific example I know, because that is what depression and trying to learn to adjust was for me. I felt like there was no point in the little things because the big problems were always there, and there was nothing I could do about them. I did not bother shaving, getting dressed, or doing more than the most basic chores around the house- none of it mattered anyway. I was still sick, could not work, was losing so much financially after I got sick, etc. etc. Who has time to care about the little things when all these big real problems need fixing?
Then at some point I cleaned up the kitchen and got things sorted out because I had a health worker stopping by in the morning and I somehow managed to decide I still had some small pride and did not want them to think I was a slob on top of everything else. The next morning I got up and it was nice. The person called and cancelled appointment so never showed up, but the morning coffee was nice. For the first time in over a year there was an hour or two of day that was almost okay. I did not feel better health wise, and none of the financial issues or any problems were dealt with, but I found something I could improve and had done it. So I started trying to do that as often as I could.
I started looking for things I could do to make things a little easier or better. Where I stored my medications, moving bird feeders to where I could see them, just lots and lots of little things. There are so many big problems that I could not change, but by spending more effort on a lot of little things I started adding a few good hours to my day to help offset the many bad ones. As I had more good hours and things felt okay sometimes, then I also found I could do more real work towards the “big things.”
After a while I could concentrate enough to take an online class to learn about digital media and graphics and I got some small freelance jobs that make a little extra money helping out with the financial issues for example. It also gave me more things to do during the day so I was not just staring at walls with my thoughts spinning out of control.
“What we can do today to make tomorrow better” is not always going to be find a job, or even send out 10 job applications- though either one of those might be something. It is anything we can do that will make any moment of tomorrow just a tiny bit better than it was today. The very small little things work to make tomorrow better also. When it feels like virtually everything in our lives is worthless or a problem, there are a ton of things to fix. But after a year, 300 little things being made better all add up, and suddenly tomorrow is a LOT better.
Life, happiness, peace, and contentment do not depend on just the big things that we don’t have, it is also being able to “smell the roses” and find pleasure and joy or relax in the moment. When all the little things get better or start getting better, then there is energy to really try on the big things. Depression can be so overwhelming that it makes success at the big things nearly impossible, but with the ability to enjoy some small things sometimes we can push back the depression, and make a meaningful effort on the big things again.
I know it all sounds like “just deal with it and be happy anyway.” A more colorful and sarcastic expression “when life gives you a shit sandwich are you supposed to be grateful you are not starving?” No, that is not what I am saying. It is more like I feel like having prime rib, but I am not going to decide to go hungry if all they have is roast chicken. I sincerely believe life is less about what you have and more about what you think about it and if you are able to resist reacting in a manner out of proportion to the issues.
Forgone Conclusions and Self Fulfilling Prophesies
It is very easy to make small problems bigger and big problems insurmountable. People do it all the time, myself included. It comes from the natural aversion to things that are difficult and/or that may result in failure. By making problems bigger in our minds we give ourselves permission to simply not try at all or to avoid the risk of failing. If somebody has failed at a number of things then it is even more alluring to both avoid the effort of trying and avoid failing. The simple truth is it provides two positives in the short term for what is only a hoped for benefit in the long term. Given that seemingly logical equation, when we are suffering from depression it makes the choice seem obvious.
The reality is that while it saves some effort and the risk of failure, it also make success impossible. The answer to that in the depressed mind is even if it did work out then it would not last anyway. Then with the now insurmountable problems firmly established in our minds plus the “fact” that it will not stay good even if it did work, we are not going to work on big problems or issues but simply use them as excuses, and since we cannot fix the now big problems there is no point in doing the small things either as nothing will ever make life “good”. In deciding that we do in fact ensure that everything in our life is bad. It also makes us know on some level by not having tried that we have failed yet again, compounding the original fears.
There are in fact some situations that cannot be changed, or that are hopeless to continue to put effort into. If somebody has died they are gone, some medical or physical health situations are beyond hope, there are even some mental health issues that have no complete cure as of yet, and a break-up or divorce may well be final. We need to face the reality that all of these things, while having no full solution, are also relatively common place and do not prevent millions of other people from having a decent quality of life. It is a matter of not allowing our reaction to a situation or even combination of situations to dictate every aspect of our life.
There are always places where you can make life better. They do not have to be big things. Maybe the answers do not even exist to all the big things. But the hours in your day are filled with a lot of small things, and finding ways to make those small things meaningful gives life value. You cannot appreciate the smaller things if all the time all your focus is on the big problems or on the things you do not have. But there are ways to make the small things better which in turn makes the hours in the morning, during the day, and through your evenings better. When some things start to get better it becomes easier to either accept the things you cannot change, or to find energy and ability to change those that you can (even if they require a lot of effort).
If every day you put in the effort to make even one small thing better for the next day, then over time things do improve. When a year has passed and 350+ things in your life are better it is hard to feel like there is nothing good in your life. In fact, you start to feel like life may have problems, but it is worth it. Just by using today to make something better for tomorrow.