How did you develop a sense of meaning in your life?
October 29, 2018 12:51 PM   Subscribe

I literally do not know what to do with my life. After the most recent, mostly terrifying report on climate change was publicized I fell into despair. (Me and roughly a zillion other people.) I have been brooding. Should I just plan on becoming a hedonist outside of my working hours because nothing matters now and there is no possible way that my grandchildren will not suffer terribly and millions of others as well in addition to the ones who currently suffer terribly?

Pure hedonism seems an unlikely path for me. I ain’t agin it, but it’s not a great fit either. Then what can I do to find meaning in my life? I know religion will not help me, and so-called spirituality is not my bag either. Walks help but in my walks I see young families and look at them and wonder how they can bear to go about their lives with the future endangered as it is. I'm in my 60s. I still have to work to support myself, and I am still helping my daughter and my grandkids but I have some time left over. It is so hard to figure out what to do with any free time I have. Is it moral and right to just spend my free time going to movies because I love movies and fuck the future because I can't do enough on behalf of the planet to make a difference?

I am asking this community that I love for help. I am not dumb, but I am despairing. I literally have no idea what to do apart from working, hanging with my family, going to movies, and going on walks. It would be great to have a sense of meaning in my life but despite my love for my family, they do not actually give it meaning although they do make it much more wonderful.

I know how to cultivate a sense of compassion for others but I have no idea how to cultivate a sense of meaning for myself. (Also: random volunteering for random groups holds no interest for me.) Any non-snarky, non-judgmental advice would be most welcome. I have never been in quite this place before. Have you? What did you do? Did it help? (IMPORTANT NOTE: Quite happy to be alive, zero thoughts of self-harm, happy to eat ice cream, etc.)
posted by Bella Donna to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
You know the sea star story? Someone walking along a beach full of beached sea stars comes across some kid is throwing sea stars back into the ocean. Walker is like, "Why bother? You can't save them all" and thrower is like "it matters to this one."
posted by aniola at 12:55 PM on October 29, 2018 [27 favorites]

If you haven't read it, Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankt is pretty much explicitly what you're describing. He survived Auschwitz and went on to have a happy life and he writes about what kept him and others going.

It's certainly one of the most influential books in my life and one I'd wholeheartedly recommend to anyone, not just someone struggling with meaning.
posted by matrixclown at 1:00 PM on October 29, 2018 [18 favorites]

This is something that I struggle with frequently. So far, I have two ideas. The first is the “sea star” method identified above. That is, finding even very small things which I personally am capable of doing that will improve the world’s future. Planting trees/volunteering for habitat restoration projects is one that I like, but YMMV.

The second thing is a corollary to the first. While I am doing the first, I tend to think “but what if in 20 years, this all gets bulldozed?” My outlook on that is that nobody alive today has the ability to preserve anything forever. All we have is the ability is to preserve it for our generation, and accept that we have given the next generation the opportunity to do the same, if they choose to. Giving them the option that you had is the best you can do.

I'm posting this in part to keep this in my recent activity and see what other good responses you get; thanks for asking.
posted by agentofselection at 1:01 PM on October 29, 2018 [11 favorites]

While not intending to downplay the climate disaster we already face that will only get worse for many millions of people, it does seem likely that humanity will continue, in some way and form, in the face of climate change for more generations than just your grandchildren. And, I'll make the assumption that you are financially stable (job and social status clues in your question) so the brunt of changes probably won't hit you or your family as directly.

You should read "The Mushroom at the End of the World", an incredible sociological and philosophical reflection on how we make life and meaning out of apparent disaster. Humans have been doing horrible things to each other and to our environments for a long time, but then sometimes we go and surprise ourselves by building things out of those ruins.

You said you know how to cultivate compassion for others... that's a great place to start finding meaning, I think.
posted by RajahKing at 1:03 PM on October 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

If climate change doesn't get reversed by humans in time, it will be a problem.

But, will your grandchildren not live?

1. There will be a mass-migration away from coastal areas as water levels rise. It could be a problem as big or bigger than hurricanes. New infrastructure will have to be created - and people will die.
2. There is a lot of uninhabited land in the USA alone. Agriculture will still work, and if you think about it - could work better if we had longer growing seasons.
3. When people talk about the long-term apocalyptic outcomes of global warming, they typically aren't talking in grounded science.

It's easy to freak out about something that everyone else says is important. And it is important. But humanity will survive. And, if it's worth any salt, my parents were equally stressed about global warming, and global warming has happened/is happening, and we all aren't dead yet.

And, there's so much near-future things to look forward to at the same time! In the next 100 years, it will be ludicrous to use combustion engines instead of solar. We will have inhabited other worlds. We will have VR communities in human-shaped pods, where everyone is happy and robots feed us without us intervening.

I mean, nobody can strictly predict the future (think of what we have today vs 1918) but suffice to say, the things people worry about a century later are RARELY the same.
posted by bbqturtle at 1:04 PM on October 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

After some abuse and badness, I had to start over in my extremely late 30's with basically zero self-image.

I may not have gone about it the correct way, let's be real. But I reconstructed myself by GIVING. Doing volunteer work, but not random volunteer work - stuff that made me feel things, like feeding people who didn't have enough food. It got to the point at which I needed so badly to give that I now work at a non-profit. I've been through horrors and taking a pay cut and doing what I felt was right was the only way I felt OK.

After some therapy I know I didn't need to do that, like, in general - I'm a good person wherever I work - but I needed to do it to heal. And I'm doing better.

YMMV, very very widely. But I'm doing the most I can do while still caring for myself and it feels like I'm making a me.
posted by wellred at 1:04 PM on October 29, 2018 [13 favorites]

Find something to do that you care about. My base suggestions are volunteering and/or art projects of some kind. Is there something you've been meaning to learn to do that you haven't made time for? Painting, ceramics, quilting? Or perhaps a need in your community going unmet? There are certainly people in your city who are struggling with food insecurity, addiction, homelessness. Without regard to saving the planet, you can make a real difference for folks who don't have much.
posted by bile and syntax at 1:07 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Life as the people living it knew it has ended on a number of occasions in human history. Climate change could well be another one of those, but we live here because human civilization continued somewhere in a different form. That will almost definitely happen again, even in a worst-case reaction to climate change.

Our culture is to some degree still determined by the civilizations that sprang up after older ones ended—the ancient Greeks in the wake of the Bronze Age collapse, the medieval Christian societies that followed the end of the western Roman empire, etc. If you want to see a civilization repeatedly collapsing and reforming itself—one that you might not know anything about yet—I really recommend reading some Chinese history. (Which, anyway, is fascinating and fun to read.)

Personally I think you'll be surprised in a positive way by how we as a species come out of this. But even if you're right and I'm wrong, something is going to come after us, and you have as much of a chance to shape it as you would if there were no such cataclysm facing us.
posted by Polycarp at 1:11 PM on October 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

I don't suppose you have pets? It is easy to make them happy, they don't understand how fucked the world is, and they'll be gone before the worst of it. My cat is a little dose of feeling ok every day. As a non-kid-person I imagine it as being a little dose of what it's like to have a kid. You're responsible for them but their needs are simple. It's probably a version of the starfish story above.
posted by Smearcase at 1:12 PM on October 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

I still have to work to support myself, and I am still helping my daughter and my grandkids but I have some time left over. It is so hard to figure out what to do with any free time I have. Is it moral and right to just spend my free time going to movies because I love movies and fuck the future because I can't do enough on behalf of the planet to make a difference?

I am a firm believer in the need to "refill your tank" now and then - to do things that give you pleasure, because that is what rejuvenates you and keeps your spirits and strength up for you to work for the corner of the world which it is your lot to fight for.

You'll notice I said "the corner of the world" to fight for, as opposed to fighting for "the world". None of us have the strength to fight for the entire world. Even the most powerful activists and politicians are only responsible for one facet of the world - someone who cured cancer would still only be responsible for curing cancer, and wouldn't be able to handle the problem of bigotry. Each one of us is really only responsible for handling the one small part of the world which we are able to take on.

Right now, it sounds like that all you can handle is your family. And that's fine - that's usually all that most people are able to do. You want to do more, but you're worn out and despairing now, and wondering what more you can do. That's a sign that maybe taking a break for just a little while is fine - go ahead and indulge in movies. Escape from the present world a little bit.

In time, after that rest, you may find that you have a little bit more mental strength, and those movies you love may remind you how much good there is in the world and make you want to get back out there and fight again. You may even see an idea in one of those films that lets you see something that you can do; or you may meet someone at the theater and strike up a friendship and they have an idea for a way you can be of service.

You may not be able to see your way to that place now; it may be time to take a break and rest up until you can find your way there again. It's okay to do that now and then. And even if you come to a place of "well, I can't do anything for the country, but by God I will fight like hell for my city," that's just fine.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:26 PM on October 29, 2018 [10 favorites]

The following articles are all about regular people deciding to become politically active in different ways, joining with like-minded people in their local communities to DO SOMETHING. I’ve noticed a few of these questions recently on Ask, and rather than supplying another answer with individualistic solutions, I’m going to challenge that type of response because in this current world with the problems we all face- it’s not enough.

The time for individual responses to problems like climate change, fascism, etc is past. I hope you find inspiration like I have in the stories above. Find a local community group that meets regularly, will give you purpose and action, and where you can create relationships that give you hope and strength to make change- instead of accepting defeat. is a good place to start.
posted by farma at 1:43 PM on October 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

It's late and I'm tired, but: I came to terms with making art as the answer to nihilistic despair.

Creating something, even the tiniest mark on a paper, led me all sorts of places I would not have expected. Talking with artists who grapple with these types of questions as part of their process made me see the questions as part of life, or at least, art, and not a problem to be fixed. I now think of myself as an outsider artist, and make work and share it, no selling it yet, that's not for me at the moment.

Helping others - paying it forward - is a huge source of healing for me. I do what I can to support others in the ways that I can, which are not as many as I would like but are not nothing either.

I also spend much of my time on distractions, talking to friends, huddling under the duvet (a friend termed it "blanket trembling") and have made something of a hobby of experimenting with different coping strategies that are a mixture of prescribed, reasonable, and inadvisable, but work for me, and if they stop working I change them.

(I couldn't get on with Man's Search for Meaning, for which I feel I need to say sorry.)
posted by Erinaceus europaeus at 1:45 PM on October 29, 2018 [12 favorites]

Albert Camus considered this question and developed the philosophy of absurdism. The Myth of Sisyphus is relatively brief, and you may find some value in it (cw: discusses suicide but ultimately rejects it). In short: in the face of life's lack of discernible meaning, we must acknowledge the absurdity of our situation and find meaning and happiness in the revolt and struggle against that meaninglessness.

This does not necessarily mean embracing hedonism, although that is one possibility that Camus discusses. He considers at least three ways in which humans can find meaning in the face of absurdity: the pursuit of pleasure, the pursuit of fame, and the pursuit of change in the world, knowing that all pleasure, fame, and change are ephemeral.

For example, I am a rock climber. This is perhaps one of the most Sisyphean of sports. The goal is to climb increasingly difficult cliffs and mountains, not to get to the other side but simply to come right back down again. And yet I find happiness in it, in the struggle against natural obstacles and against my own mental and physical limitations.

As George Mallory put it when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest: "Because it's there." Why do anything in life? Because it's there for the doing.
posted by jedicus at 1:51 PM on October 29, 2018 [14 favorites]

Human events often look bleak when you're in the middle of them, but over the long run we've been continuously improving. You could take your first paragraph and modify it for the fifties and sixties by replacing climate change with the A-bomb. You could modify it for the forties with WWII (which I am not saying wasn't awful, it just wasn't the end of the world, and things are better now than they were before). We're not always able to see how, but in general things get better. If you want to stop worrying about the future, I suggest reading about the past.

As far as what to do, that's up to you. Do whatever makes you feel useful and fulfilled. It doesn't matter that none of what you do will be remembered in 100 years, because you can still do good for specific people or things while they need it (which is I guess a way of saying you can contribute to that general trend of things getting better that I mentioned in the previous paragraph). But do something. Something is always better than nothing.

It was said of a certain Jewish rabbi that he carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one he wrote “for my sake the world was created.” On the other he wrote “I am but dust and ashes.” He would take out each slip of paper as necessary, as a reminder to himself. Certainly, in the (very) long scheme of things, everything is dust. But on the other hand, no one will ever experience this world exactly the way you do, so, at least from your own point of view, your world was made just for you. Enjoy it. Do something with it.
posted by ubiquity at 1:53 PM on October 29, 2018 [24 favorites]

We are no worse-equipped to deal with the future than the humans who lived through the ice ages and the stone ages and the dark ages, the era of feudalism and the previous era of fascism, and every other imaginable kind of shitstorm. Things are always falling apart, and nobody who has ever lived has done so with the assurance that things would be okay, or mostly okay, or even slightly okay. Hell, we could all come together and reverse climate change, and abolish fascism, and join hands to sing Kumbaya, and then get hit by an asteroid or some damn thing. It might be a good idea to periodically reflect that the future is unknown and unknowable, and probably contains both worse things and better things than anybody suspects.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 1:57 PM on October 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

Jews have struggled with the challenge of despair in face of unfathomable loss for centuries. Rabbi Tarfon said: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either." You alone, can't possible solve these problems, can't even make a noticeable dent in them. But that doesn't mean you are free to give up. I like to believe (and I recognize this belief is a matter of faith, even magical thinking but I cling tight to it) that if I make the choice to do something, some little tiny thing to move the needle in the right direction, then I am saying that it is the logical and right thing and maybe others too will make the same choice as I do and my little action, multiplied by tens of thousands, might begin to make a difference.

I can't describe how much photos of the Women's March with all those pink pussy hats meant to me. I didn't march - I didn't have the energy. But I can imagine people who turned up and maybe thought "this won't make a difference" yet even now, two years later, it makes a difference to me and gives me hope and strength. So you never know when a seemingly infinitesimal act might have an outsized impact.

I'm not a radical. I barely qualify as an activist but I am trying to do at least a little more than before, within my capacity, to make the world a better place. And for example, maybe my post combined with all the other stories here might give strength and hope to a reader who can use that to do more than I can do myself. And my belief in those kinds of possibilities, multiplied by the little actions I am able to do, keeps me going.
posted by metahawk at 2:04 PM on October 29, 2018 [24 favorites]

I read a thing on tumblr this morning that really resonated with me:
The thing about knitting is it’s much harder to fear the existential futility of all your actions while you’re doing it.

Like ok, sure, sometimes it’s hard to believe you’ve made any positive impact on the world. But it’s pretty easy to believe you’ve made a sock. Look at it. There it is. Put it on, now your foot’s warm.

Checkmate, nihilism.

Maybe you don't personally knit - that's cool. But you can do some small thing to make the world a little warmer, a little brighter, a little kinder. Maybe it's not going to save the world but look: now there's one more person out there with warm feet. That's not nothing.
posted by darchildre at 2:09 PM on October 29, 2018 [23 favorites]

Do you have a skill or special knowledge for which you can mentor others?

The Buddhist monk I study under says that Buddhism is almost like nihilism, except actions still have meaning. Even the small ones.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:28 PM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

For me, the only saving grace is doing something to make the thing I'm worrying about better. Preferably with other people you like and respect. For a long time, this meant I actually dedicated my career to climate change mitigation (ie, stopping it or making it less bad). My career has taken a bit of a turn, but now I'm focused on looking at what I can do in terms of adaptation - helping people and communities prepare for the changes that are coming, so that we can weather them as well as possible. (I'm still working on mitigation in my own life too, but I've started thinking more about adaptation.)

As for what you actually do, I think it really depends on where your interests lie and what kinds of things you like to do. If you have more of an activist mindset, you could get involved with your local climate organization, especially looking for one that has interesting/meaningful work for volunteers. If you are outdoorsy, you could volunteer to do restoration work or help with your local community garden. If you really like education, you could work with a group that teaches kids. If you're into food, you could work with your local farmer's market or food bank or again, community garden.

You may also need to try a few things before you find the right thing. But I think it's important to actually do something instead of just stewing in despair. And to build communities of people who understand how you feel but are also doing things. One gift of my 15 years of working in and around the climate movement is that I have so many people in my life who I can talk about these feelings with, but who also inspire me and make me feel hopeful with all that they are doing to continue trying to make at least a little bit of the world better.

And I think it's important to focus on cultivating your relationships and networks of support and community in general, whether that's with family, friends, neighbors, whatever. It can be really easy to isolate yourself when you feel despairing, but communities are what will pull us through. So cultivate relationships of love, trust, and mutual aid with people you love and respect.
posted by lunasol at 3:17 PM on October 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

So I know some climate scientists. I'm familiar enough with their work to know that there are a lot of brilliant, innovative people all over the world working in various initiatives and organizations to combat this issue. That's hopeful. In addition to that, I find that taking some level of individual action helps to reduce despair and feel like I'm doing something about the problem. For example, here's a list of things one can personally do to fight climate change. Every little bit each of us can do makes a difference.
posted by jazzbaby at 3:25 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is it moral and right to just spend my free time going to movies because I love movies and fuck the future because I can't do enough on behalf of the planet to make a difference?

Yup it sure is. Go for it. (Get the AARP discount!)

I agree that we are indeed all 100% irretrievably fucked. I'm entirely unclear why you need your life to have "meaning" in the face of that, however. Meaning to whom? Presumably your life has meaning to your friends and family, but most of us live lives with no larger meaning. And indeed, if you believe we're all completely doomed, there will be nobody left to hold the meaning of your life so it won't make any difference anyway.

So, yeah, go to the movies. Take your trash out with you and recycle it, because recycling is the moral thing to do, but go to the movies.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:39 PM on October 29, 2018

As a species, we tend to think pretty constantly that the apocalypse is just around the corner. We're still here, though. In the meantime, stop by our things-that-make-us-feel-happy-and-peaceful MeTa thread.
posted by WCityMike at 3:59 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

If every single person who threw up their hands about climate change tackled it with the same energy and enthusiasm as the "Blue Wave" then we would mitigate some of it. We will have to adapt to it regardless. I am horrified by the report as well and have found meaning in doing what I can and trying to motivate others. If no one does anything then yes, the worst will happen.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 4:10 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

random volunteering for random groups holds no interest for me

It makes me sad that you dismiss volunteering as random and as no solution. Volunteering doesn't have to be random and I think it could help you for two reasons:

* In line with the sea star story, the absolute maximum you can do in the face of catastrophe is to put whatever time you have available into doing something about it (and by that I don't mean every waking hour, I mean if you feel you could give a couple of hours a week, do that). That will not be enough to end the catastrophe. That does not mean it's not worth doing. If everybody put the time they had available into doing that, we'd be in a better place. The absolute maximum you can do is your share. You asked us what we personally had done and whether it had helped: My own 'this is awful and I can't do anything about it' moment came a couple of years ago in the face of the refugee crisis. I can't stop people drowning in the Mediterranean, so I had to resort to just looking around me and seeing what I had within me. I like running, so I contacted a charity that works with newcomers to my city - refugees and other migrants, and set up a running group based there, to give people some exercise, the chance to meet people, explore the city, to be made welcome. Right now, membership has dwindled and we literally have two regular members and a handful of others who drop in and out. But one of our regular members is a refugee, and I think may well be really lonely, and his English isn't great, but he comes along without fail every week (when he could choose not to) and for an hour, we run through our beautiful city, and we listen carefully to his broken English until we understand him, and we make him feel heard. Every time I'm tempted to can it all because we have so few members, I think... "Who am I to take that away from him, just because I decide it's not meaningful enough for me?" I guess he's my one sea star. Has it worked for me? I wish it was more, I wish we had a bigger group, and I still feel desperately sad about the state of the world, but I definitely take comfort in knowing I'm doing something.

* I think you're conflating two things - your desire to see off climate change catastrophe and your search for meaning. Just because you personally can't turn the climate around doesn't mean your life must be devoid of meaning forever. There are things that can bring meaning to your life even in the face of catastrophe (See also: Man's Search for Meaning, as mentioned above). These might even be 'random volunteering'. Again, you asked for examples. I'm interested in theatre. A while ago I became a volunteer support worker for a theatre company where all the performers are adults with learning disabilities. I did it because I was interested in theatre, but the meaning of it for me has turned out not to come from that. The days that I'm scheduled to volunteer, I rock up after work, tired, and not sure I can face being 'on' for 3 hours of intense workshopping. And I spend time with a group of open-hearted, welcoming, kind, wildly varied individuals, who are creative together, and appreciate me being there, and who have fun together. When I leave, I feel like I have meaning, like the world has meaning, like even if a comet struck earth while I was waiting for the bus home, I would have gone out replete with meaning because of the time we'd all spent together in that too-brightly-lit, overheated community centre. Meaning can pop up in the smallest and randomest of places.

Finally, and this may be very wide of the mark but in case it helps: Being broken to the extent of despairing passivity, rather than fired up to take action, can be a sign of depression. I hesitate to say this, because, obviously, seeing the extent of climate change might be absolutely justifiable cause for despair and I don't want to pathologise a rational view of a desperate situation. But there are also people who see that situation and are fired into action rather than lapsing into passive despair. So just in case that might be a possibility for you, am throwing it out there.
posted by penguin pie at 4:12 PM on October 29, 2018 [11 favorites]

I keep this where I can see it several times a day:
"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."
It's attributed to Martin Luther, and who knows, really. But it helps me remember to live with intention and purpose. We are here on earth such a short time and none of us have any certainty, so whatever good you can put into it is a net positive. And sometimes good means something simple, like saying good morning, or looking people in the eye, or remembering a birthday, or picking up a stray piece of trash at the park.
posted by mochapickle at 6:38 PM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

People survived the Black Plague, which was at least as bad as any of the human tragedies of climate change are going to be.

Consider the town of Eyam: when the plague came to their town, the townsfolk willingly chose to quarantine themselves for over a year so the disease would not spread. As a small community, their sacrifice made a difference, saving thousands of lives. I don't think that's meaningless even though hundreds of millions perished anyway.

With climate change, things will get very bad, but there will still come opportunities to do the right thing, and it will still matter. I don't think true despair -- giving up utterly -- is justified.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:54 PM on October 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm feeling EXACTLY the same way. Have for months. I've turned to art. Pick your medium! (short films?) Evening art classes are available in many cities.

Also have started volunteering at a farm/conservation center. Probably won't do jacked shit in the greater scheme of things but it makes me feel a lot better to be outside and in nature while it still exists in the wonderful way that it does.

Hang in there. Many parts of life are still beautiful.
posted by leafmealone at 7:14 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Some of the most effective, engaged climate activists I know are in their 60s. Or 70s. I even know one in her 90s. In my state, the most active, effective, engaged climate group is primarily run by retirees and near-retirees/older adults whose children are out of their homes. They have time, they have a lifetime of skills gained from work, they have experience (many of them were activists in the 60s), and most, if not all, of them, are motivated by worries for their children and grandchildren. If you're worried about climate change, then getting involved with a group working on it is a good way to address that, and it's not "random" volunteering. I don't know the scene in Sweden, but I'm positive you are not the only person there who is worried about this, and I'm positive there are citizen groups you can join.

(I'm terrified about climate change and I have small children. I have found myself less worried when I'm engaged with a group working on this, in my case Mothers Out Front, which most definitely welcomes grandmas!)

Not that you shouldn't also go to movies! You should. But if you want to find meaning, active engagement is a good way to do that, in my experience.
posted by john_snow at 6:26 AM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Bubonic plague. Syphilis (the cruel horror show before antibiotics). Polio (my aunt was a poster child). AIDS.

Life sucks sometimes. It's hard to see the sky. But there is good in the world, and in ourselves. Hold to that.
The question is not "Will I survive this?" Of course not. No one lives forever.

The question is "How can I make my life a testament to the goodness, to pass on what has meaning to me?"
You sound like a good person, because you are looking for meaning. Find your mentors and your muses, the people who have inspired you and strengthened you. Then, do the same for others.

Open up your piece of the sky.
posted by TrishaU at 9:30 PM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

The happiest people I know are people who have found meaningful work -- they make a living doing something that makes them happy and is good (or at least not particularly bad) for the world.

For example, teachers. Not all teachers -- some seem to have just fallen into the job and are wishing they could fall back out of it -- but the teachers who feel as if they are improving the lives of their students.

You could become a teacher, a mentor, an instructor, someone who helps other people lead happier lives. Maybe you already are such a person -- "I am still helping my daughter and my grandkids" -- and you just never thought of it that way. And you could start training to become a teacher more officially in your next career. If the world ends, you will have done what you could while you could. If the world doesn't end but it gets tough, you can still help people cope.
posted by pracowity at 7:56 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Paul Harken claims to have crunched the numbers and come up with 100 things that could have an affect on global warming.

Turns out, refrigerant management, reducing food waste and educating girls may have a greater impact on carbon emissions than solar or wind generation. Seems like there are some items on the list that could benefit from individual choices and changes as much as institutional ones.
posted by squink at 5:54 AM on November 1, 2018

Many, many thanks for the thoughtful responses. The pet one was excellent too (really, they all are) but I cannot keep a pet where I live, alas.

Here's a little update. I was sick and I did not realise how much that was feeding into my despair. I am on the mend, now, and after reading all of your suggestions I am forcing myself to get out of the house more. Next week I am going to an event having to do with Sweden's asylum policy and the EU's immigration policy as part of a Storytelling without Borders graduation ceremony. Lots of refugee kids will be showing movies they have made; I will take tissues.

The week after I am going to a local university's annual Sustainability Research Day. I joined a Facebook group (of course I did) for Swedes worried about climate change. It was just created last month, and I have invited all 28 members to go to the Sustainability Research Day thing with me. In 10 days or so I am taking my grandson to a movie.

Eventually I will volunteer with a group, after I find one that's a good fit for me. In the meantime, more walks, more movies, and more time with the grandkids. Thank you, MeFites, for helping me get unstuck. As usual, you rock!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:15 AM on November 1, 2018 [10 favorites]

Walks help but in my walks I see young families and look at them and wonder how they can bear to go about their lives with the future endangered as it is.

I'm going to address just this small part of your question, because that's where I feel I have something useful to contribute (In a more general sense, that's sort of my own hack for feeling despair).

It might help those feelings to walk in areas or at times when you won't see many, if any young families.

I'm not sure what is in your area for that, but my city has a lot of natural areas that are open to the public, without paved paths, where I rarely see young families. The terrain is difficult for strollers, and it's not right near houses, so I think people wanting to do a quick walk with children avoid it. Some other possibilities would be to walk in commercial office or light industrial areas. Do check if these are safe places to walk at the time you want to go walking. College campuses are also less likely places to see young families, and might be a safer choice for certain times of day. Bar districts, if your local laws forbid those underage from entering bars, are also a good bet for not seeing families, though they might be unpleasant to walk through in other ways -- the specifics of that will be very dependent on your local conditions.
posted by yohko at 6:24 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

The world is in a state of shit because of hundreds of thousands of years of trillions and trillions of tiny microdecisions made by sentient/sapient creatures (e.g. humans and their forebears). There is not really any "one big thing" any one individual human can do to reverse that. But there are still your own thousands of microdecisions.

Easiest example is deliberately being conscious of where you put your feet when you are out and about, so that you don't step on any ants. Would it matter if you did step on them? Not really. But when you consciously determine not to, and expend energy on making sure you don't, this has a "trickle-out" effect to your life. It takes conscious energy and practice and won't always be perfect, but making those positive microdecisions - "No straw, thanks" when at a bar; "Let's just have veggies tonight" when at the supermarket; "Ahh, let's just go for a walk around the block" when debating what to do after dinner - that don't matter individually but matter collectively, is about as good as any of us can do.

Anyway, that's how I try to do it. Take the bus. Vote for the least-shit. Don't be cruel.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:15 PM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

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