Have you heard of Blue Monday? It’s not only my fifth favorite New Order song, it’s also the most depressing day of the year! Some scientists, mathematicians and diplomats decided the third Monday of January is indeed the saddest, bleakest, most miserable day of the year. I assume it was some scientists, mathematicians and diplomats. Who else would be in charge of designating the saddest day of the year? Not a defunct travel channel, right? Oh, a defunct travel channel designated the date.
Well lucky for us, it lands right smack in the middle of the busiest month for divorces. Divorces are no picnic, believe you me, but the added stress of a divorce on top of an escalating vitamin D deficiency and a growing January specific nihilistic worldview is just about enough to unsubscribe from the outside world and decide you’re living the rest of your life in a self imposed Room situation. But I’m here to tell you, don’t. Don’t hole up, or give up. Instead, take today to reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” Reflect on that and change your attitude, because weirdly, you are totally in control of that. Let me explain.
A long time ago, I was feeling anxious/borderline terrified over something and a strange, normally silent part of my brain chimed in and said, “Hey, decide you’re not scared.” And, suddenly, I wasn’t. Then it happened again. I was in a crabby mood and that oft mute area of my noggin said, “Choose to be in a better mood.” And I did. I recounted this to a friend explaining I was tricking and manipulating my brain and that bending spoons with just my mind was clearly not far off. And he said, you’re exercising autonomy over yourself, you’re not Kreskin. He was right. Rude but right.
We can choose to be in charge of ourselves and our temperaments. I’m obviously not talking about clinical depression, which is real and serious, and I am not minimizing that struggle at all. I’m instead talking about the everyday non-medical stuff that gets in the way of living better. The core ingredient needed to stop the bad mood spiral to beat yourself up town is kindness. Kindness towards yourself, and kindness towards others.
The magical thing about kindness is that it compounds. If someone holds the door for you on the way out of your local coffee shop, odds are you’ll hold the elevator door for someone else later in the day. Kindness is contagious and in a world that is basically on fire and crumbling every minute of the day, we could all use some more good in our lives. If there can be acts of kindness during war, you can certainly implement it in your divorce and in your daily life.
Be kind to your ex.
I’m not suggesting you treat your former spouse like royalty or anything, but I am recommending being less of a jerk. Small things like a simple compliment can be so unexpected and flattering that the whole day can change. Next time you’re doing the kid shuffle, mention to your ex how little Sally was saying she always has such a great time with your ex, or that she was really looking forward to their time together. Small things can add up to a larger change in attitude. Offer to run an errand or wash their car or help out with something minor around the house. You’ll be surprised how disarming something small can be.
Be kind to your divorcing friends.
Whether you can relate or not, if a pal is going through a divorce it’s possible they’re going through the roughest period of his or her life and you’ve got a front row seat. Just be there for your friend. It’s simple advice, but it’s good advice. Follow their cues. Let them vent when they want to, and backoff when they don’t. Little gestures can be the most meaningful when they come as a surprise, so send them some flowers or show up with groceries one night and cook them dinner. Make them a pity filled Spotify playlist so they can cry it out, and an upbeat dance party playlist to buoy them afterwards. Be there for your bud and they’ll repay the favor the next time you’re down in the dumps.
Be kind to your kids.
Unfortunately, your kids are buckled up all nice and snug in the backseat of this long-haul that is your divorce. It’s imperative they feel safe and important during this big change, so take some time to really hang out with them. Ask them how they’re feeling and push when you get one word or vague answers. Establish new traditions with them to give them something familiar and recurring to look forward to. If they’re old enough, ask them what they need from you to process through the changes. Don’t ever bad mouth your ex in front of them. This is not their war, do not drag them into it. Create an atmosphere filled with hope so that everyone feels like while the future may be different, it will still be good, and maybe even better than the past.
Be kind to yourself.
Like She & Him said, you’ve got to be kind to yourself. Acknowledge that this is a hard time and you will be feeling a lot of emotions. Don’t beat yourself up for not being further along in the process of working through those emotions because there is no set timeline. Keep a gratitude journal to keep things in perspective. Take yourself on indulgent days out where you get to do anything you want and please let that include getting a slice of cake. Look outside yourself and do something good for others like donating blood or volunteering.
Give yourself the ultimate gift: clean up your Facebook account. Unfriend or at least unfollow everyone except your closest friends. The reasons are twofold. First, comparison is the thief of joy. You don’t need an acquaintance’s#blessedlife shoved in your face with minute by minutes updates with meticulously staged I’m-better-than-you photos. Secondly, in this election year, for your own sanity, unfollow or unfriend the people that make you irate. Your high school lab partner is racist, ok? No amount of explaining the complex war on terrorism is going to change that. Your friend Chuck’s wife is a moron. Can you really get into a debate about Planned Parenthood with a woman who spells babies “babys?” What’s your ETA on getting her to agree with you? Months? Years? Give it up, bro. Release yourself from the Facebook shackles and enjoy your new freedom where success and happiness are defined by you, and you alone. Then listen to Kindness, the musician, and brainstorm. Prioritize kindness and see how quickly your attitude and worldview change.
James J. Sexton