Those people look scared, don't they? Hard to blame them. I bet you're scared, too, if you're somewhere below a "1" on the Double Arrow Metabolism Wellness Index. I don't blame you. I've been there. You creep up on middle age and watch a couple close friends or family members get sick or die, you get a little disgusted with what you do for a living, you start to search for meaning. But you also can't help but cushion the hard bedrock of that dread and regret with things: donuts or steaks or a new car or a bigger house because "you can't take it with you."
But those things won't make you happy. You know what makes people happy? Mastering something. Autonomy. Friendship. Not stuff. Think of the courage on display at the average grade-school talent show. The kids have just begun to feel self-conscious, but it hasn't yet shaded out the old-fashioned fear of separation from the safe anonymity of the crowd. But they get up there and show a skill they've practiced, and they walk of the stage smiling. That's what it feels like to take control of your life.
I know this sounds angry. But it's not. It's just honest. It's honest to what I believe are essential truths. Happiness runs along a path that you set, not a path that the big pharma companies or the food companies sets for you. So with the New Year creeping up on you, what are you going to do? Make another New Year's resolution to do some meaningless thing like "just park as far from the door of Wal-Mart as you can"?
I'm an anti-incrementalist. The proper advice, if delivered by a physician being intellectually honest (that's me) about what would be best for a patient looking to be healthier and happier would not be to park further from the Wal-Mart entrance, but would go something like this: Leave the car at home. Don't go to Wal-Mart at all. But if you do, walk there, bike there, or bus there. The trip will be good for your body and your mind, and the lack of a fancy gas-powered wheelchair will keep you from buying a bunch of crap you don't need and spending money you'd be better off saving. And that will keep you from worrying about retirement or working extra hours (or years) at a job you don't like to pay for all the crap you just bought.
Walk to the store with a list of items that you settled upon after appropriately scolding yourself for almost falling into the consumerist trap that purveyors of early-twenty-first century crap want to snare you in. Use the list to buy those things, then walk out and walk home. Or bike or bus. If you don't think you can get home with the amount of groceries you need, get on Craigslist and buy a bike trailer.
Do you live too far from Wal-Mart or Super Target to walk, bike, or bus? Find a closer store. Chances are it's smaller, and they'll work harder for your business. Can't find one at all? Move. Move to the smallest house you can find that's within human-powered range of your job, a grocery store, and a park or university campus. The average new home in 1950 was under 1000 square feet (and the average family aimed for six people under that roof).
There. There's one item for your 2018 resolution. What else can we come up with that will make you happier?
1. Delete your social media accounts. If that's too drastic, delete the apps off your phone and make yourself go to the website. That's all the incrementalism you'll get from me.
2. Go through your email inbox and unsubscribe to every non-essential mailing list. Modern email managers make this easy. This includes all the "discounts." They're a scam. Do you think you'd be sad if you didn't get your daily discount flier from Bed Bath and Beyond?
3. Stop between the mailbox and the house every night and recycle every piece of mail that isn't a bill or a letter from a loved one or a magazine that you're actually looking forward to reading.
4. Stop reading this blog. Go hug a kid and offer to take her outside to play frisbee or go for a bike ride or memorize lines of Shakespeare together or pitch a tent.
5. Decide what you want to get good at and work toward mastering it. Enroll in lessons. Set aside time for practice. Now that your fifty minutes of daily Facebooking is freed up, you'll have more than enough time.