Does saying or thinking “this is hard” make you feel guilty? If you’re like me, it does. After all, I could have it so much worse. I’m not risking my life every day to care for the sick or elderly. I’m not bagging groceries or pumping gas. I’m not out delivering essential goods. I’m not corralling toddlers or trying to teach algebra to my own offspring.
I’m cozy at home, writing, baking, sewing, watching movies, napping, reading. Going for a daily walk. Finally finding time for unrushed housework and meal preparation. Logging in to Zoom meetings with various groups.
It’s no great hardship.
So when honest depression begins to rear its gloomy head, whether from the deluge of bad news or from isolation or monotony or a cloudy sky, I ask myself unhelpful and guilt-inducing questions:
What’s the matter with you?
How dare you mope while others suffer?
I deliver ineffective self-lectures:
Give your head a shake.
You’re so fortunate.
Get off your duff and do something.
Can you relate?
I connect with a lot of writers online who say they can’t motivate themselves to write even though this should be an ideal time to be productive. Our brains are distracted, foggy, uninspired. The advice often given is to stop being so hard on yourself, grant yourself grace. Maybe now is the time to rest and quit “shoulding” on yourself.
That guidance may be exactly what some need, but it doesn’t work well for me. For this to-do list addict, nonproductivity is the surest path to the doldrums and crankiness. If I haven’t checked off my day’s goals, no matter how puny, I’m sure to go to bed miserably doubting my self worth. I know that’s not healthy, but neither is inactivity.
To combat this, I’ve come up with three better questions to ask myself daily. These let me off the hook called “productivity” while still adding value to every day.
#1. Who did I serve today?
Many days, the only answer to that question might be that you cooked supper. And maybe that’s enough. But you might find you served someone in more ways than you’d thought. One day I took a loaf of fresh-baked bread to a bereaved friend. I also spent a few days sewing face masks until materials ran out. Even picking up litter is a service to your community.
#2. Who did I bless today?
This differs from the first question and usually takes the shape of words. Did you call a friend when they came to mind, just to see how they’re doing? Did you leave an encouraging comment on social media? Did you pray for those on the front lines of this pandemic and for the leaders who must make tough decisions?
#3. Who might be blessed in the future because of what I did today?
I’m slowly writing a novel that I hope will bless others in years to come. I’m working on gifts for my kids for upcoming anniversaries. It’s too soon for these to be of use to anyone today, but the day is coming. Use your skills to invest in the future! Plant a garden. Build a bookcase. Mail a meaningful card. Take an online class.
At the end of the day, if you can find an answer to these three questions, I’ll bet your outlook will have improved. If not, try again tomorrow morning by rewording them: Who will I serve today? Who will I bless today? Who will be blessed in the future because of what I do today?
Three great questions for any time, really.