Clearly, I am no doctor or expert but I do think I have come up with a way of looking at life that seems much friendlier and less prone to bouts of the blues. Rather than standing back to assess the big picture, see your time spent as a series of moments. And needless to say, focus on the good ones.
This may sound simplistic, but it has taken me an awful long time to figure it out. I am not speaking here of finding ways to cope with the normal trials and tribulations we all suffer, (deaths, illnesses, rejection) but about the tendency to gauge our up/down level too often and too harshly. We are our own best and worst critics, emphasis on the latter. My self critiques -- which inevitably lead to a corresponding level of dissatisfaction -- usually emerge when I allow myself to become overwhelmed by what is out there. Instead of seeing all those wonderful books I can still read, I begin to see all the books I wish I'd written. Instead of being thrilled at all the great schools this country offers, I wonder if my kids wouldn't have been happier there. Then there are all the boys I never dated, the high school experience I was too inhibited to enjoy, the risks I didn't take and so on.I am reading Keith Richards' book,
Unrealistic and inevitably dashed expectations has been my lifelong M.O., and it invariably leads to, "Well, it was a mediocre run." But when I break down the full screen into smaller bytes, things begin to look better. High school was a mixed bag, but Instead of harping on those painful hours standing against a wall hoping someone would ask me to dance, I remember when (after a confidence leap and growth spurt one summer) I showed up at the school's next dance in a bright green, low-cut little dress with heels to match. They were literally standing in line.
Likewise, rather than focusing on all the articles I did not write or did write that were not printed, I am trying valiantly to be happy with the ones that saw the light of day. My very first, at 21, chronicled life as a "Child of the '60s" and made me a star -- for about a week. Hey, there are a lot of moments in a week. Yes, marriage came late but rather than worry that I was a late bloomer, I take pride in the surprise wedding guests still talk about. (One that a younger and less secure me would not have envisioned)
I find that this YouTube-ization can be healthy and heartening. It makes one not only less depressed but less judgmental. In a funk one day, I said to a friend that I only hoped my daughter's achievements would surpass my meager ones. I was quickly and rightly scolded: "That's not only unfair to your daughter, it's unfair to you." All we want is for our children to be happy and successful doing what they choose, and it will be a lot easier if we celebrate the positives. While it may be hard to forget the C minus in biology, applaud the B plus in English. So he wasn't number one on varsity, but how about watching the team hang out with joy and true camaraderie during practice?
My friend, a gifted singer, was mildly down because a string of performances had just ended and a new CD was starting slowly. I tried out my new "life as a series of moments" theory on her, and she started recalling some particularly moving aspects of the recent shows. We talked about some of our favorite moments together -- a few almost 40 years ago -- and concluded those were well worth savoring for the scrapbook. She called later to report that a record company had just offered to distribute her CD overseas. She felt slightly guilty that it took a jolt of good news to lift her spirits. I saw it as a reward for a more forgiving way of thinking.
I recommend this approach as daily life begins to feel mundane, as you begin to wallow and whine and slip under water and those big realizations bubble to the surface: It didn't turn out as you'd hoped. Nothing much was really accomplished. All those others seem to do or have it better. Try flipping those feelings: No one else has your kids, or your friends. You too were a star of something at some time. More important, I bet you can think of plenty of times you impacted others. Clearly, there is a reason that we all watch Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" every December. No one personified this better than Harry Bailey, who had pretty much struck bottom where he had lost sight of all the moments that mattered.
Try it as a party game: Ten best moments? And go deeper than the obvious -- (Day of child's birth). What specifically in that child's life as he or she has grown? Try it on New Years Eve: Favorite moments of the year. The more you realize you had many, the less you will claim that another unmemorable year has gone by. There is a beautiful scene near the end of "The Way We Were" in which Hubbell and his longtime pal play their recollection game. (Best summer? Best Sunday afternoon?) As Hubbell keeps recalling those with the difficult Katie, the more he realizes he is about to lose the most precious thing he ever had. In other words, this means of reflection may prove a preventive savior as well.
As we head into longer lives than those before us ever dreamed of, it would likely behoove us all not to expect the whole picture to be friction free. We can't photoshop a life. Someone else's may always seem less filled with wrinkles, insecurity or failures, but likely it is not. Thinking big is great but a lot of smalls add up. Take the best and leave the rest behind.