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Ten Ways to Get a Life
Push yourself off the couch and/or out the door and get more out of single life!

Jan. 2003

by Janet L. Jacobsen

William James wrote, “Most people live, whether physically, intellectually, or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible con-sciousness, and of their soul’s resources in general. Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.”
Many of us ultimately survived becoming “single again” with the discovery that we were much stronger and more resilient than we thought. We faced an incredible number of new challenges - and opportunities. But for those of us who’ve been single for awhile, it’s easy to settle into a rut of single life not unlike the rut of married life: not each day as a new day, but each day as a repeat of the day before.
The current expression “Get a life” gets used in such a variety of circumstances that it’s tough to give a thorough definition. But one sure aspect is that someone thinks the person doesn’t have enough interesting stuff going on in their life.
If you suspect you are getting in a single’s rut, and need to jump-start your life, any combination of the following will serve as a jumper cable to get you going again, if you’re willing to make a little effort and take a little risk.

1. “There’s nothing wrong with him a library card wouldn’t fix,” a friend of mine said about someone. To have a library card, you have to go to the library. Once at the library, find something new to read. If you’re stuck on fiction, ask the librarian to suggest a powerful nonfiction book. If you’re only into “serious” reading, ask for recommendations on something fun. If you don’t much read at all, sit down in the current magazine section with two you’ve never seen, and don’t leave til you’ve read them. (Flipping through doesn’t count.)

2. The average American spends 29 hours a week watching tv. That’s 17% of the only 168 hours any of us has in a week. Unplug the tv, put it in a closet, sell it. If the thought is almost unbearable, do it for just a specific period of time - a week, two weeks. (Two days?) If you can’t think what you’d do with your time (or with your family) if you didn’t have tv, it’s time to rethink what you’re doing with your time!

3. Take a class. University, community college, parks and recreation, special tutor, weekend seminar - the opportunities are endless, as long as you make it something new. Stretch your brain.

4. Get a hobby. Hobbies are not just killing time, most hobbies are developing a skill. As Dr. Laurence Peter put it, “The best intelligence test is what we do with our leisure.” Learn karate, piano, gardening, dancing, basketweaving. Anything! Of course you will not be “good at it” when you start; you’re a beginner, aren’t you? Forget your ego and give yourself a chance to develop. “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

5. Go to some kind of gathering of people you otherwise don’t hang around with. Attend an ethnic event in your community. Go to a meeting - Sierra Club, or the National Rifle Association, or the Republicans, or the Democrats, or the City Council. Try a new church this weekend. Expose yourself to some people, and ideas, you don’t usually encounter.

6. Educator Susan Glaser notes, “It is easier to act your way into new ways of feeling than to feel yourself into new ways of acting.” What’s your “usual” way of dealing with strangers? Grumpy? Silent? Watch their every move? Refuse to make eye contact? Experiment with new approaches. Consciously make small adjustments; work at them long enough to see how you feel about them. For instance, if eye contact is hard, practice looking at people’s faces when you walk through the mall. Make it a point to say something pleasant to at least two strangers each day (the grocery clerk and the bank teller will do, if everybody else seems too threatening). If you monopolize conversations, practice asking good questions and then really listening to the answers.

7. “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” This saying, turning up on bumper stickers, falls into the “do something nice for someone who can never repay you” category - goodness for the sake of what doing it does for you. As British playwright Dodie Smith put it, “Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cure for depression.” Or consider the verse by Berton Braley: “If you think that praise is due him/ Now’s the time to slip it to him/ For he cannot read his tombstone when he’s dead.”

8. Make your world a safer place. A police officer friend of mine says one of the best ways to increase your security at home is to know all your neighbors. If you don’t already know them, get out and introduce yourself. If going door to door to say “Hello, I thought we ought to meet” seems too awkward, then start by going over to say “hi” when folks are out cleaning the driveway. Strengthen the neighborhood by organizing a block watch, potluck, recycling drive, or even a group garage sale.

9. Get to know your body. Take yourself in for a tune-up, especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve seen a dentist, eye doctor, or had your “annual” phy-sical. Knowing that all is well can increase your confidence; finding problems while they’re still “small” improves your life!

10. Brendan Gill says, “Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious.” Lighten up! Do things just for the fun, for the experience. Ride a merry-go-round, fly a kite, swing on the swings, do more things with more friends just for fun. Anything you think “Ah, that’s just for kids” - do!
All this “new” stuff sound a little scary? Then remember the words of Helen Keller, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature.”