1) Don’t think of this as “The End.” Technically, it’s the end of the world. But every end brings a new beginning! Instead of focusing on the bombs and the toxic clouds and the eventual death of every living thing on earth, consider, instead, what might spring to life next. A vibrant and adventurous new species that thrives on the ashes and nuclear toxins we left behind? A deeply intuitive breed of mutant slugs that can suck oxygen out of the tiny bubbles found between styrofoam Hardee’s cups, seeping car batteries, and decomposing copies of Snooki’s autobiography? When one door closes, another one always opens. In this case, there won’t be any more doors anywhere, closing or opening. But what kinds of doors will those adventurous mutant slugs create? Perhaps they’ll dare to live without doors, thereby keeping themselves utterly open and present to the world around them! Sometimes just considering how much more centered the next living creatures on earth might be can provide a gentle solace as everything you’ve ever known is destroyed before your eyes.
2) Try to put your life into perspective. Watching everything you care about go up in flames can be pretty stressful. Debra, 55, a bank executive with four children in Des Moines, Iowa, says that there are days where she can hardly stand to make dirt soup for her family. “Killing the dog and curing its meat was especially hard on the kids,” she explains. “But then I think about the dinosaurs, who lived here for millions of years. Our lives are just a blip compared to that!” It’s true that we’ll go down in history as the one generation to destroy our entire planet and everything on it in a single lifetime. But thankfully, there won’t be any history books to record our great big, super-embarrassing blunder! Sometimes you have to take a few steps back to see just how trivial and silly saying goodbye to your family and friends and the entire planet can look, in the big scheme of things.
3) Consider all the terrible stuff that will never happen now. It’s never a good idea to fill your head with countless negative possibilities — unless you and everyone else in your life is about to get snuffed out like a light! Now is the time to unleash all of your worries about the future like never before. Since you have no future, that means that you won’t get cancer to die in a plane crash or get maimed in a freak accident like you always suspected. You also won’t get fired from your job, you won’t lose your house to bankruptcy, and your dog won’t die of some terrible dog disease (You just killed her to make dog jerky, remember? Phew!). And just think, now your husband will never leave you for his sexy younger coworker. And let’s be honest, that was totally on, right before the bombs dropped. Think of how betrayed and humiliated you would’ve felt for the rest of your life if an affair had been revealed! Now, instead of dying a bitter old woman who complained relentlessly about her son-of-a-bitch husband and his filthy slut of a second wife for the balance of your days, alienating your children, your siblings and every last friend, you can die as a courageous mother with a devoted spouse, both of you looking out for each other until your dying breath!
4) Focus on your apocalyptic blessings. You may be quite literally starving to death right now. Or, you may be fighting off hoards of hungry neighbors by brandishing sharpened gardening tools. But even if you’re considering cutting off your own foot so you can roast it for dinner, remember: Only thoughts can stand in the way of your happiness. Telling yourself a really depressing story about the blood-thirsty desperation of the end times will only lead to more agony. Research shows that embracing a more uplifting story, filled with love and gratitude and acceptance of what is, will increase your happiness by a teensy, tiny little bit. Every little scrap of happiness helps, though! (Studies indicate that results may vary, depending on your access to lethal narcotics/huffable spray paint.)
5) Ask yourself, is this really how I want to suffer and die? This question might sound a little tortured at first, but if you ask this enough times in a row — say, when you’re actually in the process of suffering and dying — you might just have a breakthrough. Every time you ask, you’ll open up the possibility that you could discover some little choice, seemingly minor, that could make your untimely demise all the more delightful. Helen, 35, a schoolteacher in New Paltz, NY, reports that even after her boyfriend perished from malnourishment and she was too weak to saw his bones apart, she kept challenging herself to find some new choice that might shift her whole experience. Finally, a creative solution dawned on her: She could drag his rotting corpse outside to stave off the pack of prowling wolves gathered in the empty lot behind the crumbling remains of her apartment complex! As she sat and watched the wolves tear meat off her dead boyfriend’s femur from her collapsed second story window, a funny thing happened: She was filled with an inner glow of satisfaction, knowing that she’d kept some other living beings alive for just a few days longer!
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Here in the Living Lady! underground bomb shelter/alien-retardant bunker — built years ago under the guidance of Staff Clairvoyant Marsha Rittenhammer — we have enough green tea, flax seeds and smoked salmon to last us through the next decade or so. But we’ve still been marveling at the rawness and vulnerability of Helen’s tale over mani-pedis and deep tissue massages in the Imagination Room each day. Remember, it’s the little things that make a big difference when the world is ending. Once you recognize to how full of invigorating unknowns the apocalypse is, you can start to shift your whole way of experiencing Armageddon!
Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Top models shot by “Ryan.” Bottom image by Lisa Omarali. Handsome lady by the trash by “thierry ehrmann.”