A better life takes practice.
As Aristotle taught, we are our own habits, good and bad. We spend much of our lives trying to break the bad habits, the nail biting, the swearing and the reality TV watching. Depression itself could be described as a habit of hopelessness.
I have little patience for the modern-day obsession with being a victim of our bad habits, with friends who cannot stop smoking because Nicorette is too complicated, when really it's just the next aisle over from the Marlboros.
A writer friend kept telling me he suffered from writer's block. I finally told him that writer's block is just the habit of not writing. "The cure," I said, "is to set the alarm for 4 am, pick up the pen and write. If you need a topic, write 500 words on how much I annoy you."
Instead of breaking bad habits, try making three good habits:
1. Get smarter every day. Start small. Look up "xeric," that your wife played in Words With Friends, or ask your buddy at work what the Spanish word for scissors is.
2. Create. We burn up so much time on our bad habits that we forget that the signature of our humanity is that we create, from cave paintings to the Apollo space program. Here are tiny ways to be creative every day: Try a new meatloaf recipe. Or doodle on a placemat. Frame it and give it to your sister. Or turn the radio up real loud and dance in the shower. No one can see you.
And this is the big one:
3. Tell the people you love that you love them. Not only does it connect you to the world, but it also makes the other person feel good. As Victor Hugo wrote, "The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved … loved for ourselves, or rather, in spite of ourselves."
You never know. They might love you back.
With a Perspective, this is Kevin Fisher-Paulson.
Kevin Fisher-Paulson is a captain with the San Francisco Sheriff's Department where he manages a maximum security jail.