Planet Earth
Lord knows we need them.
The latest woke vs. conservative outrage. A new war. The next insane policy. The shattering of our dearest assumptions and sacred cows. A novel theory that blows your mind. A crazy conspiracy theory you begin to suspect is true. Factions in the alternative media and various grifters at each other's throats. Anger and insults every day. Glued to our screens, our brains get scrambled until we lose touch with reality, with who we are, with what we know. Addictions of various kinds. Our lives pierced by a virtual reality we can't escape.

Maneuvering this situation requires us to keep sane. But how? Here are some things that have helped me.

1. Embrace real life

One of the greatest dangers to our sanity and wellbeing has always been to get sucked into ideologies: to become fascinated and obsessed with certain strong ideas, opinions, or theories. These days, this danger has grown exponentially because a) we all spend too much time on our screens and b) even well-intentioned people online tend to zero in on "hot takes" and try to fill a certain niche by milking an idea or an attention-grabbing stance ad nauseam. To say nothing of the millions of grifters poisoning social media.

The best way to recalibrate your system is to simply engage in real life: to consciously choose to interact with real people in different situations with a spirit of curiosity. When a strong idea, obsession, or hot take by some online dude meets the reality of your observations and interactions in real life, chances are they don't last very long. Or at least, you will see them in a different light, as one interesting take to consider, nothing more, nothing less.

Humanity is wonderfully complex, and so is each individual, including you. Life often looks nothing like the categories we are all drawn to in online warfare.

2. Focus on serving

It really does make you happy. Make an effort to shift your attention from your immediate wants and needs, from the selfish fantasies we all have, but which tend to make us miserable, towards the question of what you can do for others. What is it you can do that would make some person happy, help him or her grow, or simply make them smile? As an unintended byproduct, people will like you more, and you will radiate this subtle wisdom that the right kind of people respond to.

Now, there are two pitfalls: first, the idea here is not to be a doormat for other people and yield to their manipulations. Setting boundaries remains important. In fact, it is a precondition for being useful to others. Someone who is caught up in a net of manipulation and is taken advantage of can't even help himself, much less others. Second, serving must come from the right place in your heart. The only motivation must be to do the right thing, and the deep satisfaction that will eventually come from it. It should never be done to fuel our narcissism, to show off, to belittle others, or to get some immediate reward or benefit. It is an end in itself.

3. Get a productive hobby

Nothing grounds you like a hobby that is challenging and that you practice stoically, for its own sake. Since there are no monetary or other interests in it, such practice can show us what life could look like, what life is like if you do something hard for the pure joy of it.

In fact, a productive hobby can teach you the eternal laws of life, maybe more so than books. (Or at least, the two must go together if they are to yield results instead of becoming a mere obsession.) For example, you will likely start being completely clueless about the activity in question, so you must embrace baby steps and forget about instant gratification. You will learn that the only way to succeed is to focus on the process, not the result. You will have to learn about the balance between "getting into the zone" and obsession. And so much more.

What exactly it is you do isn't that important, although I would recommend something that doesn't involve staring at a screen all the time. Personally, I play piano, and I sometimes build little ham radio projects (a nerdy hobby but without being cool lol). I also have a stupid little China-motorcycle that I tinker with a bit, on a ridiculously low level, mind you. There are millions of options, and many of them don't cost much. You could even start super-low and just do a simple repair instead of having someone do it, even though it might cost you a lot of effort. Everything that involves some kind of manual work is great. And whatever you do, there will be others interested in it — a decent hobby can be a great way to meet decent people.

These things bring joy, teach you a ton, and break the screen addiction in natural ways.

One warning: every hobby these days has a massive YouTube community. Which is a blessing, but also a curse: don't be tempted to binge-watch videos instead of practicing your hobby. And don't let a hobby overtake your mind completely to the point you can't think of anything else. Balance!

4. Develop patience

Patience has been considered a crucial virtue since forever. And for good reason: it is the basis for balance in one's life, one's heart, and one's thinking.

We don't want to be randomly thrown around by life, circumstances, and our mood of the day. Instead, we want to cultivate a long-term view. For example, it is amazing how we tend to freak out or emotionally react in the face of certain situations, even though we have made the experience a million times that everything will be alright. It is really quite stupid. When we enter a mindset of patience, things suddenly look different, and we can trust again that things will sort themselves out, that we will be able to sort them out, as we have done so many times before.

Patience also makes us less susceptible to ideological manipulations. We realize that we can't change the world in a heartbeat, that the short-term promises of both our leaders and their opponents are mostly worthless, and that revolutions can't make the world better overnight. Everything has a long-term perspective built in, and it's here where everything of significance happens.

Patience doesn't mean inaction. It means widening our perception of reality, and therefore taking different actions.

5. Read the books that are right for you

Books can be a great sanity boost. I recommend going for older books, the classics of your culture, but also just older books you stumble across that capture your attention. I particularly like autobiographies for a glimpse into a different time. They have a knack of showing you both the universality of the human experience across all times, but also how relative and ridiculous the zeitgeist and its fashions of the day truly are. There is something deeply liberating about reconnecting with how people, especially in your country, used to live, think, and react.

Personally, for the sake of sanity preservation, I prefer reading about lives and experiences, as opposed to theories and philosophy. The religious and philosophical fist fights of another era may be fascinating, but if you need some grounding, they sometimes aren't your best bet.

But really, just read what you stumble across and that interests you. Don't let anybody tell you what you have to read, or make you feel bad for not having read this or that. We each have our own journey here. And as long as we don't get too obsessed with a particular author and allow his theories to override our common sense and decency, there is no danger.

For some reason, I find that there's nothing quite like reading a real book. As much as I love the many remarkable authors on substack, reading on the phone or computer is never the same for me. With a book, you are not distracted, and you can deeply dive into a different world, get into an author's head, experience the world from a new angle. This meditative quality alone makes reading books a sanity preserver par excellence.

Everything is opening up. The online world is like nothing we have ever seen. We will either rise like eagles, or be crushed under a wave of change on all levels. To rise, we must first stay sane.