Four years ago, in the wake of President Obama’s reelection, I felt utterly disillusioned with government, politics, and current events in general. It felt like the world was spinning out of control and there was nothing I could do about it.
Having spent the better part of a year—the better part of my adult life, actually—closely following politics, candidates, and issues, I decided to disengage. I quit watching the news. I quit reading news sites and listening to talk radio. On my personal blog I launched something called the “Anything but Politics Challenge.”
My handful of readers seemed to enjoy it. It was a way of taking a break from the rallies, speeches, and debates and focusing on things I found more nourishing of heart and mind.
Time passed, and I got sucked back in. But today I am pondering the need for another “Anything but Politics Challenge.” Without rehashing the candidates or the myriad doubts I have about them, suffice it to say that I find myself in August having no clue what I’m going to do in November.
It is coming down to a choice between writing someone in or compromising my principles in a way I never have before so as to cast what will be a purely strategic, pragmatic vote. It doesn’t appear that anything that happens between today and November 8 is going to change that. The candidates are the candidates. In three months they are going to have the same character and beliefs they do now. Why continue to torture myself about it?
I have decided I will not. Like most Americans, I am too inclined to look to government or the election of a single candidate to enhance my situation when it would be far more productive to focus on ways of improving my life independent of whatever party or leader wins the next election. If you want to join me, here are eight things we can both do right now, today, to enhance our quality of life more than any politician ever could.
1. Listen to More Good Music
By “good” I mean really, really good: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms. A number of studies suggest classical music can be good for your heart, reduce stress and help you sleep, and improve your brain function. So get listening. Here are a few places to start.
2. Read More Good Books
Not online articles. Not Facebook. Actual books. As an English major, I used to inhale them. But somewhere between motherhood and menopause that changed, and I quit reading other than for the sake of reading to my kids and keeping abreast of current events.
In the last few years I have started to rediscover my love of literature for its own sake, and it has changed my life—and brain—for the better. If it has been too long since you picked up a book for the sheer joy of it, here’s a list to get you started. Start at the beginning and work your way through. If one book doesn’t draw you in, set it aside and try the next. No need to force it. There’s always another book.
3. Eat More Good Food
In the jam-packed lives most of us tend to live, one of the things that often falls by the wayside is food. Instead of taking time to plan and cook healthy meals, we resort to calorie-laden restaurant or fast food and processed or instant food that has been stripped of many of its nutrients. I don’t particularly like to cook and have never been one to spend hours in the kitchen. But when I have tried to intentionally plan menus and cook from scratch I have seen great benefits to myself and my family in both quality and nutritional value, not to mention budget.
You don’t need to be a gourmet cook or shop only at Whole Foods to rediscover the joy of real food. Pull those dusty cookbooks off the shelf, pick a few recipes that sound simple but tasty, and go shopping. Buy fresh, if possible, rather than canned or frozen. In cooking and eating your own food you’ll engage in one of the most basic of all human activities, one that too many of us in the twenty-first century have forgotten.
4. Spend More Time with People You Care About
Play games, watch movies, sit on the porch and drink a beer, look at the stars, talk to your neighbors. Just don’t talk about politics.
5. Go to Church More
If you already do, keep it up. If you don’t, what better time to start than the present? I recommend a church that is light on life coaching and heavy on gospel comfort, one that isn’t seeking to save the country or the world but that is instead seeking to save souls.
6. Beautify the World More
Take music lessons. Learn to paint. Write, sculpt, sing, make, or grow something. Share it. Or don’t.
7. Exercise More
Get out of that chair and away from that screen and move. You don’t have to join a health club or buy a fancy piece of exercise equipment. All you need is a good pair of shoes and some room to walk. If even those things are in short supply, remember the exercises you learned in grade school: toe touches, jumping jacks, and knee bends. Add planking to the list. Stretch. Breathe.
8. Pray More
“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). God doesn’t promise to answer our prayers exactly as we desire. But He does promise to hear and answer them in the way that is best for us. We should pray not only to seek God’s help and blessing, but because prayer connects us to him, and when we are connected to him, life is better in every way.
When I was young and newly aware of politics I tended to invest each election with civilization-saving importance. We had to elect this candidate to save the neighborhood, that one to save the world! The older I get, and the closer to my own waning days, the more I realize that leaders come and go, nations rise and fall, but people keep getting born, living their lives, making friends, serving their neighbor, getting married, having babies, getting old, and dying.
Certainly governments can affect our ability to do those things in the manner we would like. Oppressive governments can do so severely, even disastrously. So we should care, and we should vote. But in the thousands of years of human history that have already passed and the unknown number yet to come, my 80- or 90-odd year lifespan (and yours) is a tiny little dot in a billion-pixel landscape.
The same is true for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all the rest. None of them has the ability to help me pray better, love my dear ones better, or better avail myself of the beauty and goodness that are still to be found in this messed-up world. I’m going to get to it. Will you join me?