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Urban Chat: So, how awful has your 2020 been so far?

Lynda Ibrahim

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, January 10, 2020  /  11:59 am
Urban Chat: So, how awful has your 2020 been so far?

How are you planning to stay sane this year? (Shutterstock/-)

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes now and calling me a pathological cynic.

To those of you who are still reading, let us count the awfulness.

Jan 1. Massive rainfall led to worse-than-usual flooding around Greater Jakarta, killing dozens and affecting tens of thousands including residents whose homes had never been flooded before. For days, the capital and adjacent parts of West Java were practically paralyzed.

Jan 2. The United States killed Iran’s top military commander, sending shock waves throughout the world, which is still dealing with prolonged Middle East conflicts, many of which are related to the US in the first place. The term World War III was trending on social media just two days into 2020.

Jan 6., in the morning. A four-story building in West Jakarta collapsed without warning, shocking Jakartans still reeling from the flood and scandalizing every civil engineer around.

Jan 6, in the evening. News broke from Manchester that an Indonesian graduate student had been convicted for raping a staggering number of men, rendering him the title of the UK's most prolific rapist.

And let's not forget the ongoing bushfire in Australia that, according to Greenpeace, has ravaged 8.4 million hectares of forest, five times the size of Indonesia's bushfire last year, sending smoke and yellowing sky thousands of miles away to Auckland.

I thought 2019 was already dramatic, both publicly and for me personally. Throughout the year I had to constantly run like a headless chicken dealing with emergencies myself, topped by the last quarter that saw me diagnosed with a couple of health problems – one of which remains on a rather long road of treatment. Yet the first week of 2020 unleashed a series of dramatic events that made 2019 pale in comparison.

Does that mean we should just roll back under the blanket and wait until 2021 kicks in? Well, I personally can't afford to do so. Aside from the little fact that bills and commitments will come knocking, I've got too much Jupiter in me to be a total recluse. Stepping back from social media as I've gradually done is one thing, but stepping back from life is not an option. Yet, how will we maintain well-being if this first week is a good sample of the onslaught that is to be unfurled for the rest of the year? I suddenly thought about Professor Laurie Santos.

Laurie Santos is a professor of psychology and cognitive science whose class "Psychology and the Good Life" is Yale University's most popular class in history – a mean feat considering Yale was founded over 3 centuries ago and educates thousands of students annually.

There are countless books and courses on attaining happiness, yet what sets Professor Santos apart is her using science to anchor methods aimed at changing behavior. Instead of letting one intuitively do things believed to make one happy, Santos prescribes seven science-based "rewirement" habits to form daily. Let's give them a look.

Make social connections: Yes, Mom warned us not to talk to strangers, and the aforementioned Reynhard Sinaga case can seriously dampen our sociability drive. Yet most adults typically know how to safely conduct social interaction in public.

What Professor Santos advises is not to engage in political debate with random strangers, but to start a simple chat with someone waiting in line behind you or sitting next to you on public transportation, a practice she argues will reduce loneliness. Born a chatterbox, I do this often, and I'm pleased to report that beyond the occasional unpleasantness I generally get positive responses. I have already made a few new friends simply because I struck up a conversation with perfect strangers. Be safe, yet be social.

Meditation: I'm not the most dedicated yogini, but my practice over the years shows that meditation, the state of focus reached through regularly maintaining yoga poses, is indeed effective in calming emotions and centering the mind – two conditions backed scientifically by Professor Santos' findings. If you are interested in meditation without a yoga approach, check for classes springing up in major Indonesian cities. For those familiar with yoga and who wish to go deeper into meditation, I carefully recommend Kundalini yoga with a certified guru.

Limit your choices: Hyperconnectivity has brought about unlimited choices, commonly believed to make us happier. Santos argues otherwise. The little me 10 years ago would have outright rejected Professor Santos' argument, but the current me kind of sees the logic. More choices can mean more confusion, indecisiveness or restlessness. I personally don't know how to apply this in my life yet, but the exasperating people who spend 7 minutes in Starbucks to eventually decide on a standard latte and muffin could really use it.

Focus less on an "end" goal: Many of you, especially Type A like yours truly, will first think of this as unproductive. Yet as I listened more to Santos' interview, I came to understand that what she meant was placing too much importance on an end prize that the whole journey was deemed fruitless if it didn't end with the said prize. The "be present" yogic mantra actually drives to the same point that one needs to focus and enjoy the present – including when "present" means an ongoing process with no immediate ending. Trust the process, try as well to enjoy the process.

Call a friend: I've been called old-school for still picking up the phone to call. What most people who laughed at me didn't understand is I basically don't have the time or temperament to engage in back-and-forth texting of an issue that can be resolved in a 2-minute phone chat. What Santos advises may sound even more old-fashioned to the text-crazed peeps, making a call just to say hello. Apparently studies have proven that doing so improves one's mood instantly. So lay off texting, call someone who's not your mom.

Sleep: Not just in quantity, but in quality. I'm one of those lucky few who sleep soundly as soon as my head rests on a pillow, for which my travel mates hate me, but I understand it's a struggle for many. To achieve the necessary amount and quality of sleep, Santos advises to entirely unplug your gadgets before going to bed. I love TV and often have the TV on while working on other things, but I must admit that falling asleep in front of a blaring TV is one of the worst ways to get a healthy night's sleep.

Keep a gratitude journal: Santos finds that writing three to five things to be grateful about on a daily basis can statistically improve one's mood in two weeks. I've never been much of a diary keeper, but I admit to occasionally looking back into my life for the past week or two and silently jotting down, in my mind, things to be thankful for. I don't know if Santos would find it as effective, but I'm veering in that direction.

What about you guys? Have you used some of these rewirement techniques, or do you have a completely different method? Tap into the online comments section below, write to the editor, or find me on Twitter – let me know how you're planning to stay sane this year. In the meantime, Happy New Year, everyone!

-- Lynda Ibrahim is a Jakarta-based writer
with a penchant for purple, pussycats and pop culture.


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