1. Get involved instead of complaining.
Earlier this year, the political scientist Eitan Hersh argued in The Atlantic that highly educated people who consume a ton of political news are making true progress harder in this country. Their appetite for constant indignation fuels an outrage-industrial complex in media and politics, and likely makes compromise harder.
“What they are doing is no closer to engaging in politics than watching SportsCenter is to playing football,” Hersh wrote. He recommends active, local citizenship: getting involved in your community and working with others to push for positive change instead of just watching cable TV and ranting about it. Hersh recommends this for the good of the country; I recommend it for the good of your mental health and relationships.
2. Ration your consumption of politics and limit the time you spend discussing it.
A key characteristic of addictive behavior is the displacement of human relationships by the object of addiction. A good way to gauge whether you have a problem is to ask: Is this activity a complement to my relationships, or a substitute? In the case of politics, for many people, an honest answer would clearly be the latter; hence the willingness to damage friendships and romances.
The solution is to ration your consumption of politics, and set proper boundaries around where you talk about it. I recommend limiting the consumption of all news—not just politics—to 30 minutes a day, unless news is your vocation. Much more than that and you might just be upsetting, rather than informing, yourself, or at least becoming one of Hersh’s “hobbyists.” Further, resolve to avoid political discussions during most nonpolitical occasions. It may be hard at first, but I’d wager that eventually you will savor the respite, especially during election season, when politics is everywhere.
3. Turn off ultra-partisan news sources, especially on your own side.
In 2017, the website The Onion introduced a satirical current-events talk show called You’re Right. In it, the host feeds viewers their own beliefs and biases, assuring them that they are right and that those who disagree are stupid and evil.
It’s a parody, of course, but it captures a real reason why people often turn to partisan news sources: It brings emotional satisfaction to hear experts and famous people saying things you agree with, and denouncing those with whom you disagree. But this has deleterious effects on your relationships, and leaves you poorly informed. Once you step away for a while, you’ll most likely start to realize how much of your energy it was consuming, and how much better you feel without these influences.
The fall is going to be rough, politically. The election will be brutal and bitter; there’s no way to avoid this. But Americans have to decide whether we want our own lives to be brutal and bitter as well. Each of us has political views, many of them strongly held. Each of us is convinced that we are right—and some of us might well be. But if we let these views dominate our thoughts, our time, and our conversations, they will harm our relationships and happiness. We can be happier if, sometimes, we follow the Buddha and just let our opinions go.
Especially with the in-laws.
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