The news continues to be bleak and depressing: riots in England, famine in Somalia, financial chaos in America, death, murder, rape, slavery, trafficking, war—you name it, it’s happening live on a “tube” near you. But despite all that is going on throughout the world, I want to talk about something else of vital importance: creating hope in the midst of hell that surrounds us. How can we live fulfilled lives of meaning and purpose, joy and hope when there are so many things that can turn us into fearful, paranoid, cynical, hopeless creatures? Is such hope possible? I believe it is possible, but it does take some work.
#1: Mute The Noise, Turn Off The TV
“Ignorance is bliss,” “silence is golden,” “no news is good news.” All classic adages that speak to a reality defined by an absence of noise and news. While I am not an advocate for ignorance, there are certain things that I really don’t need to know about and that gives me bliss. I don’t really need to know about child molesters in other parts of the country. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist or that I hate the fact that there are child molesters, but it renders me helpless to do anything when I am hundreds of miles away. That feeling of helplessness leads to hopelessness and that is why I choose to turn off the news.
When watching the news, one often believes that there is a certain amount of importance to the stories that are presented, but the fact is, thousands upon thousands of stories are mined and created for the purpose of feeding the 24-hour news monster, not necessarily for the purpose of informing citizens, but getting the product consumed, having more viewers and higher ratings. I concede that I have a rather cynical view of the news, but when you take a moment and flip through the 24-hour news channels, regardless of political bias, the majority of the stories are sensationalistic, not journalistic, in nature.
If you want to create hope you need to turn off the TV and opt for silence. Nothing creates more calm than peace and quiet. Learning to not habitually reach for the remote is a much-needed skill that must be daily practiced. In the absence of noise, one can meditate, read or converse with others, which in many ways leads to a life of hope because of the nutritional value of hope found in each of those activities. By consuming a healthy diet of silence, you find amazing amounts of time to process, filter and purge the accumulation of drudgery that is daily collected. However, it is only in an atmosphere of calm that this is possible.
In many ways, I fear that by turning off the TV, I risk becoming less informed and more ignorant, but thankfully I find the opposite occurs: I become more informed because I have been able to process and think about the issues at hand, instead of bombarding my senses with chaotic noise and imagery.
#2: Say To Yourself, “It Could Be Worse. In Fact, It Was Worse. I Forgot.”
History eludes each of us, unless we watch the biopic by Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson or Martin Scorsese. We live in the now, ignoring the past, wondering why the future never changes. The reality is that things have always been pretty bad and comparatively speaking things are pretty good right now. Unemployment rates have been worse, the economy has sucked harder than a Hoover Vacuum in the past. While atrocities like slavery, the Holocaust, the Dark Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the bombings of London, the sacking of Rome—seem to be sensational titles of the next Hollywood blockbuster films—they are real moments in time when people were hurt, killed, tortured and persecuted.
We need to learn from history for the sake of our future. Hope can be found in history, because we read about events that are worse than anything we can imagine in our civilized world. There should be comfort in knowing that we don’t need to kill our food anymore or that when we need to fill our Hummers, the gas lines are still flowing and inexpensive.
#3: Take A Deep Breath, Go For A Walk, Get Some Rest
Fear is born when we no longer “stop and smell the roses.” When was the last time that you walked past a flower shop without taking a moment to admire the beauty of nature? The sweet smells of peace and serenity. I am imagining the aroma of the roses in my backyard, the sweet mixture of morning sunshine and earth.
Apart from smelling flowers, when was the last time you took a deep breath? Every so often, I realize the shallowness of my breathing and stop to take some deep breaths. I inhale to the count of ten, pause, and then exhale to the count of ten, repeating until I feel calmer.
Equally important is the ability to get out of your chair, away from your surroundings and going for a walk or a hike. By getting your blood pumping, you realize that the birds are chirping, the air is pure, and the staleness of the modern business world is washed clean, baptized in the rushing wind and waters of nature.
#4: Realize The Power Of Hugs And Laughs By Spending Time With Friends And Family
I often write about the time that I spend every Friday morning with my grandma. I make her a chocolate chip pancake and in return, she talks about her life. I give her a hug and tell her that I love her. The stories are often the same, but the truth is that I know that I am loved when I leave her house. I have laughed, I feel the sadness of not knowing those that came before me, and yet, I recognize the characteristics of my ancestors in my being. That feels me with hope and urges me to reach out to the other family members that are alive, that can be hugged.
It is amazing how much fear and anxiety is eliminated when I take the time to laugh with friends and family. True laughter, erupting from the depths of my being, is an assassin of fear and cynicism. It is truly the best medicine for a hopeless world, but unfortunately, the most expensive prescription to buy because it means that we have to let go of certain things: first, the power that we give the world over our emotions and well-being, and second, that laughter does not eliminate the reality of death. Once you can get past those realities, your life will be that much richer.
#5: Celebrate The Simple Things
The simple things in life matter. They are different for everyone, but for me, when I go bowling, eat an ice cream cone or a popsicle, go hiking with a friend, spend time with my wife, watch a movie, read a book, listen to some great music, I am a happy camper.
What are the simple things in your life that bring you happiness and pleasure? Daily pursue the simple things and realize that they will bring you hope.
#6: Have Something To Live For
Having a purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning, is the best way to develop hope, security and peace. It is also the hardest to find and develop, especially when you listen to the marketing messages of Corporate America. By asking a lot of questions, walking a narrow path of understanding yourself and others, you can find a life that has meaning and purpose, regardless of what happens in the world.
You will know you have a reason to live when you can honestly answer the following question with a strong yes: “If everything that I own was taken away from me, would I be okay?”
I am by no means a saint. I struggle with hope in today’s cluster of chaos, and yet, I find myself drawn to the beautiful images of hope and peace that are fragrant and full of joy. It takes a way of looking at the world that exchanges pessimism and hopeless reality with a tragicomic realness.
As long as there are flowers, ice cream cones, mountains, comedies and hugs, life can be filled with hope.