Ten Things to Do Instead of Wallowing

As Catholics and as citizens, we have a responsibility to be well-informed about the news, because we have a responsibility to do the right things:  write to our congressmen, elect the right (or the least disastrous) candidates, make the right choices for our kids' education, maybe boycott or support the right corporations, and of course pray for the right things.  But keeping up with the news most certainly falls under the law of diminishing returns.  After a while, reading the headlines stops informing you and starts deflating you.  You think you're filling your brain with information so you can be spurred to action, but you're really just filling your heart with despair until you feel like there's no point in even trying to act.

What to do? 

There are lots of things you can do which are more valuable than listening to the news:  you can volunteer at a soup kitchen, or organize a singalong for nursing home residents, or get qualified as a hospice volunteer, and so on.  But these are projects that take time and organization.  What can you do right now, when you're sitting in your kitchen and you know you're making yourself miserable by obsessively reading and forwarding every last update about Gosnell and the Boy Scouts and Bangladesh and gay marriage and the HHS mandate and Monsanto, but you don't know how to break away

Turn it all off -- the radio, the TV, and anything with internet.  A day would be nice, but try it just for an hour -- and try to choose the hour when you know you tend to get bogged down (for me, it's around 4:30 PM).  Your life won't fall apart if you miss the latest dire forwards.

Clean something.  On the day Obama was elected, my entire kitchen got scoured within inches of its life (and I discovered my sisters' kitchens all did, too).  It was just an instinctive response, so I could feel like I was back in control of something; but I really did feel more hopeful, energized and encouraged once it was done.  Just pick one spot in the house, car, or office that always drags at you when you see it, and give it twenty minutes of focussed attention. 

Fix something.  Same principle as cleaning:  just getting control of one little thing makes the whole world seem more hopeful.  Tighten up that wobbly doorknob, change that light bulb, or finally finish sanding that spackling job in the hall, and see if the world doesn't take on a more hopeful tone.

Go outside.  Fresh air and sunshine are still free!  Go get some.

Say "yes" to the next person who asks you for something.  You can't make the world stop saying "No, no, no" to everything good.  But that doesn't mean you have to be part of the chorus. 

Read to someone.  If you don't have little kids, older kids and other adults still enjoy being read to.  Or if there's no one at all, you could even make a recording of yourself and send it to a niece or nephew or grandchild.  Reading out loud to another person is a wonderful way to feel connected, especially if you're passing on a favorite book or story to someone who hasn't discovered it yet.

Plant something.  Even if you only have a cruddy little corner of soil in a dirty old yard, try cosmos.  They thrive in even poor soil with only sporadic watering, and some varieties get to be several feet high, and the blossoms are brilliant and glossy.  Or if you have no land at all, plant a sprouting potato or onion in a pot on a windowsill. 

Write someone a letter with pen and ink.  Email is stale.  Put your words down on a page and get it in the mail next time you leave the house.  Reaching out to other people is a great way to get out of the dank little prison of self-pity and despair.

Take the long view.  Think the news is bad?  It's been this bad before -- just pick up a history book.  Or do you think the American Church is in terrible shape?  Maybe, but the Church is bigger than the United States, and it's flourishing in other countries.  Evil waxes and wanes, and always has done so -- but as Catholics, we already know that this story has a happy ending.

And of course pray.  Just don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can singlehandedly turn around whatever catastrophic situation you see on TV by saying the right number of rosaries.  It's the quality of our faith and trust in God, and not the amount of hand-wringing or fretting you do, that makes prayers worthy and effective.  Remember, you're praying because you're putting the situation in God's hands, not because you're trying to strong-arm Him into changing the course of history.

Feeling miserable about bad things is not the same as being on the side of good.  Take a break from the bad news.  That's not escapism, that's reminding yourself of something true:  life is still good.