We live in uncertain times. Besides the normal uncertainties that attend being a human being navigating the world, we now have Covid, riots, division, and kind and degree of vitriol unlike anything most of us have ever seen.
People are sad. People are uncertain. People are anxious. In the public sphere the better angels of our nature seem to have abdicated. Hatred and viciousness reign.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, the news media deliberately fans the flame of all this negativity, with its relentless litany of fear, doom, and manufactured outrage because that’s how you fix viewer attention, which in turn is how you make those fat advertising dollars.
So how can you foster hopefulness in troubled times like these? Here are some ways . . .
Remember, you have a choice to be an active agent in your own life, or the passive victim of circumstances. Circumstances, desirable and undesirable, happen. They’ve always happened. They always will happen. It’s how we choose to respond to what happens to us that ultimately define our experience of the world, and ultimately our character.
There are any number of small choices we can make every day in support of this first choice to define our own experience of life, however challenging the external circumstances. Including . . .
It’s always wise to be discriminating gatekeepers for what we allow to pass into our minds, and lately it’s essential. You can’t expect to feel positive when the majority of your input is negative. GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out.
So take a critical look at what you are allowing to influence your mental and emotional state. Ask yourself if they are net positives or net negatives, and whether or not you can reduce their influence or even eliminate it entirely.
Take some time to evaluate . . .
- What you’re regularly reading
- What you’re regularly listening to
- What you’re regularly watching
- Who you’re regularly spending time with
- Where and how you’re spending your time
For each ask yourself: Does this input or influencer do more to uplift me or to bring me down?
If the answer is that it brings you down more than lifts you up, then minimize or eliminate that influencer. At least for a while.
Obviously, when it comes to people the idea isn’t to cut them from your life, it’s simply to minimize how much of their negativity you’re willing to expose yourself to.
Be Here Now
“Worrying is praying for what you don’t want.”– Unknown
Most of our anxiety is less about what’s happening, than what we fear might happen, but actually probably won’t happen.
To put it another way, you conjure an illusion and that illusion makes you suffer. So, in fact you, are causing yourself suffering. For no good reason.
By grounding yourself in the present moment, you disentangle your mind and emotions from a negative illusory future which, freeing yourself to have space for positive thought and feeling.
Mindfulness meditation is an easy and effective method for doing this. If you’re not familiar with Mindfulness meditation, a quick google or youtube search will give you plenty of places to start. Or get Practicing Mindfulness, by Matthew Sockolov.
Do Some Good
Be the change you want to see in the world.– Mohandas Gandhi
If you want to feel more positive and hopeful, try to do a little good each day. You don’t have to be a saint, just the kind of person who is deliberate in trying to express more kindness than indifference, more happiness than negativity. When you do so you’ll find that you always get more than you give. By spreading positivity, your own mind, heart, and life is uplifted and improved.
So look for ways every day to increase the net Good in the world, in little ways.
- Smile rather than frown while walking down the street
- Compliment a stranger
- Let someone cut in front of you in line
- Hold the door open
- Think something positive about the person you just judged
- Pick up that piece of litter you just saw
- Look him in the eye, say “Thank you,” and mean it
- Instead of ranting, share something uplifting or funny on facebook
Don’t forget that kindness begins with yourself. Be kind to you.
No matter how bad things are, or seem to be, there’s always something to be grateful for. In fact there’s always a great deal to be grateful for. Once again, our choice of focus determines whether or not we see it.
Gratitude is a kind of mindfulness too. It focuses the mind, and reigns in unruly and unhelpful emotions.
What’s more, grateful people are happier, kinder, and more effective human beings than those who complain about everything they think is wrong in the world.
Gratitude is free, and it expands the more you express it. It is fertile soil for hope and happiness.
So take time each day to think about–and better yet write about–some things you’re grateful for. Big things and small things are equally viable subjects of gratitude: From the fact you are alive and healthy in a world thriving with life, to the perfectness of your first cup of coffee in the morning.
Take Positive, Creative Action
When we feel our hope sapped the natural tendency is to retreat, pull back, and close off from the world (Covid and lockdowns have powerfully reinforced this).
The result is creative stagnation.
Implied in every creative act is faith in a good outcome: from the blank page, a poem or a drawing; from the ball of yarn, a scarf; from pluck of strings, a tune.
In other words, it’s hard, and maybe impossible, to be hopeless and creative at the same time.
So find time to invest in creativity of some kind. Doodle, draw, paint, sculpt, write, play, sing, dance. Instead of watching another TV show, start writing a TV script. Instead of playing another videogame, start storyboarding your own videogame.
No one can be blamed for surrendering to hopelessness and negativity, given how uncertain and frightening times are now. But there’s nothing admirable about it either.
We can choose to not allow circumstances to define us. Each and every day we can decide to cast our lot on the side of hope. Some days doing so will be harder than others, but our ability to choose doesn’t change.
What does change is our way of looking at and experiencing the world. As we grow more deliberate in the decision to be hopeful, positive people we become more resilient. We become happier. In being happier we spread happiness. And as happiness spreads, so does hope.
How do you cultivate hope in uncertain or challenging times like these? Please share your thoughts and strategies in the comments below.