All I have ever wanted is for somebody to put their hand on my shoulder and tell me “Everything is going to be alright.”
I couldn’t tell anybody of my need—my yearning—for this simple act, or why it mattered so much to me. This was something I prayed for. This was something that could not be bought.
In the deepest hours of my life (when I was out of work for a long time, grossly overweight, and with my father critically ill in hospital) I longed for a pat on the shoulder to tell me things would be okay. None came.
At a gathering early this year my family members spoke of my brother and sister-in-law’s achievements. They have done well for themselves in their careers. They live in a nice house. The family spoke of my sister and brother-in-law. They are a couple with a talent for making desserts. They have their own house too and a stable marriage.
What about the stories of me? None came.
As a single man in my late thirties I did not make the cut. Without any demonstrable, society-driven norms of success (a big educational or study achievement, a career promotion, a steady relationship or news of an impending marriage or baby) I did not receive a mention.
As I listened to what everyone said I longed even more for the words “Everything is going to be alright.” But I didn’t hear them, even after years of requests. What we most crave sometimes does not crave us. While being a cruel feature of life at times, emotional pain can help build resilience.
It was New Year’s Eve, and I was in a room full of people, watching a crowd on TV celebrating the New Year in the city, but I could not have felt more alone.
Merely attending and being present was not enough. In my life, frequently not being part of the threads of conversation has been cutting, and brutally so at times. Especially since the disconnection makes it harder to believe everything truly will be okay.
But if we do not take the time to celebrate our own strengths and tell ourselves “Everything’s going to be alright” we will continue to live as if nothing will ever be.
So what can we do? Here are six suggestions I’ve implemented to help me feel good about myself and life. These things will not take much time out of your day. Instead, they will allow you to use the time you have to help push yourself in a better direction.
Others can judge us, but if we don’t see the light in ourselves, how can we expect others to?
I know it can hard to believe in your own goodness. The times when we most need to see ourselves in the best light are often the times when it is most difficult to do so.
There are days when getting out of bed is a struggle. There are times when tears fall down my face and I struggle to pick myself up from the constant battle with myself and my thoughts. There are days when I cannot fall sleep because my mind is just too loud.
Yet, despite everything I wrote above, with these six things that I do daily I am able to face the day with calmness, strength, and poise, knowing that I have the ability to take concrete actions to overcome my thoughts.
1. Contact one friend and one family member.
Text or WhatsApp and say hello to a family member and friend. This will take no more than a few minutes each day. Ask them how they are, ask them what’s new. Ask them how you can help them.
You are not the only one with painful thoughts racing through your head. If during your interaction you are able to listen deeply and fully connect with them, who knows? You may be able to express the words that they want to hear.
2. Develop an attitude of gratitude.
Every morning I ask myself what three things I am grateful for from the day before, what two things (if achieved) will make my day great, and what one thing I am grateful for about this morning. Some people write this down, I say this to myself and find this works just as well. This puts me in a positive frame of mind before I have even started the day.
3. Perform three acts of kindness.
These can range from the very small to the very big. When we are self-obsessed, we think of ourselves all the time and often feel bad as a result; when we are kindness-obsessed, we think of others and feel the joy of making them smile. Helping others helps yourself, period. It may seem selfish to think of it that way, but if you can help yourself and someone else at the same time, why not?
4. Do twenty minutes of exercise that you enjoy.
People often give up on their fitness plan because they do exercise that they don’t enjoy. And it’s a shame because exercise is not only good for your body, but also your mental health. Stick to what you like (in my case swimming), and you’ll find adopting the exercise habit more fun—and more lasting.
5. Read aloud for three minutes.
Find something you enjoy and read aloud for three minutes (or as long as you can muster). Stand up straight and tall and take pride in reading, as you may have done when you were a child. This will boost your confidence, and developing this habit will also help instil a small level of self-discipline. It’s an easy thing to achieve this each day, and something you can feel good about.
6. Read fiction at bedtime.
This promotes sleep, releases worry and anxiety, and allows you to unwind so you’re ready to face the next day afresh. It also helps to turn off your mobile devices and T.V. one hour before bedtime.
If you do all of the above daily and start feeling the benefits, it will be easier to tell yourself “Everything is going to be alright,” no matter what’s going on in your life. After doing this for a while, I am sure it will be. Try the ideas that work; disregard the ones that don’t.
All of the above have worked for me. While I still want a pat on the shoulder and people to tell me things will be alright, I now know I can tell myself this, and feel better for being able to do so.