In this time where fear is more contagious than any infection, I really want to share some reasons to be hopeful for the present and the future. The reality is that there is more good than bad going on in the world, but our brains are programmed to protect us and we too easily default to catastrophic negative thinking if we don’t remind ourselves of reality and bring ourselves back to the present moment. I hope these things can help you remember that the world really isn’t coming to an end and that it really is going to be okay.
1. Hope is in Your Blood – Remember Your Elders
I have been thinking a lot of my Grandma Martha who recently passed away. I miss her, but I still feel her with me often. She was 100 before she passed and I think about all the things she went through in the last 100 years. How many doom and gloom headlines did she read through her lifetime? Here are a few she may have read:
- “Stocks Dive Amid Frenzy in 16,410,000-Share Day” (Black Tuesday in 1929 leading to the Great Depression)
- “Hindenburg Explodes: Many Killed” (1937)
- “1500 Dead in Hawaii – Congress Votes War” (December 8, 1941)
- “Russia says Blockade: ‘Step to Nuclear War’” (October 1962)
- Here are a few “scientific” predictions from the first Earth Day in 1970
- Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
- Peter Gunter, a North Texas State University professor, wrote in 1970, “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”
- Ecologist Kenneth Watt told Time that, “At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”
- Paul Ehrlich chimed in, predicting in 1970 that “air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” Ehrlich sketched a scenario in which 200,000 Americans would die in 1973 during “smog disasters” in New York and Los Angeles.
- “Challenger Explodes: No Hope For 7 On Board” (January 1986)
- “War on America! Terrorists Attack Twin Towers, Pentagon” (September 11, 2001)
- “Tsunami kills thousands across nations” (2004 – most deadly tsunami killing over 200,000)
All these headlines were shocking, but my Grandma still made it to 100 and she still lived her life fully amid all these terrible events that could have caused her to shudder with fear. Let’s remember our elders because they lived through all this, they were resilient. You can be resilient too. It’s literally in your blood.
2. The News is Negatively Biased – Remember the Good Stuff Too
If it bleeds, it leads. The business model of most news agencies is that reporters will attract attention if something is urgent or jarring or a potential threat. This attracts attention, and large amounts of attention can sell a lot of ad space. Ad space can be worth millions to these news agencies and so this creates a vicious cycle of biased reporting to sell ads and keep the news agencies financially supported. Some news agencies can do a good job to keep us informed, but they also make money off of our attention. You have to look harder to find the stories of the good things happening. So to offset all the negative headlines you have likely been reading, here is a list of good things happening, just around the Coronavirus situation in the last few weeks:
- Quarantined Italians Sing Uplifting Songs from their Balconies to Lift Their Spirits
- South Korea reported more recoveries from the coronavirus than new infections for the first time since its outbreak (Reuters)
- China sends medical experts and 18 tons of medical supplies to support Italy and Spain’s fight against coronavirus (Reuters)
- The reduction in air pollution in China may have saved the lives of 4,000 children under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70
- Canada’s first COVID-19 vaccine made in the University of Saskatchewan is now in testing stages (CJWW)
- China reports only eight new cases of the coronavirus infection in the country, the lowest daily tally since January (as of March 15)
- NBA players are donating money to cover salaries of arena workers amid th COVID-19 shutdown.
- People are coming together across the U.S. to support local Chinatowns amid Coronavirus prejudice and racism
You can find images and sources to all of these and follow the Instagram account The Happy Broadcast here: https://instagram.com/the_happy_broadcast
3. This is the Best Time in all History to be Alive
Okay so there is a global crisis going on. This is true. But if you zoom out a bit on all of history, you will find that this time, right now, is the best time to be alive. If you need a little evidence of this, go read the book Progress: 10 Reasons to Look Forward to the Future
Here are a few great things reported just in the last few years:
- 85.8% of the world’s one-year-old children have been vaccinated against some disease.
- Smallpox has been vaccinated out of existence. This has saved around 5 million lives per year and between 150 to 200 million lives between 1980 and 2018.
- Since 1990, global average income has increased by 55%. For the first time in 10,000 years over 50% of the world have enough income to be considered middle class or rich.
- 2017 was the first year there were no commercial passenger plane deaths at all with over 4 billion people in the air.
- Global suicide rates have fallen by 29% since 2000.
- Between 1980 and 2017 the world’s population increased by 69% from 4.46 to 7.55 billion, yet resources are more abundant than ever. The CATO Institute researchers found “humanity is experiencing superabundance.”
- In the past 25 years, the share of people living in extreme poverty around the world fell from 36% to 10%. 200 years ago 90% of the world lived in extreme poverty.
- Violent crime in America has dropped 75% since the early 1990s.
- The chances of an American being killed by a terrorist in the USA is 1 in 3.5 billion — less chance than drowning in a bathtub.
- Since 180 countries signed the Montreal Protocol to phase out chemicals like CFCs, the ozone layer is now improving about 3% per decade and should be fully restored in the Northern Hemisphere by 2030 and Antarctica by 2060.
- Global life expectancy has increased by 10 years since 1980.
- The number of annual deaths from natural disasters has been cut in half in the past 100 years.
- Child mortality has been halved in the past 20 years.
- 2/3 of the world lives in a democracy.
- Since 1990, winter smog is down by 77% and summer smog by 22% while the U.S. population has grown rapidly.
- The 2018 Social Progress Index reports “overall the world is getting better, with 133 of the 146 countries seeing an overall improvement in social progress.”
- The 2018 Report of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climates concludes, “We are on the cusp of a new economic era: one where growth is driven by the interaction between rapid technological innovation, sustainable infrastructure investment, and increased resource productivity.”
To believe that the world is getting worse and spiraling into chaos is completely unrealistic based on hard facts and real historical evidence. To be a pessimist is not to be a realist because the reality is truly much more optimistic. The world is NOT coming to an end.
4. Remember that You Create Self-Fulfilling Prophecies – Why Not Create a Good One?
We can help shape our own future. The Disney movie Tomorrowland is one of my all time favorite movies. It is the story of a world that is coming to an end not because it actually is going to end, but because too many people are afraid of it coming to an end and causing this to happen.
Gordon B. Hinckley talks about this phenomenon:
“We hear much talk of economic depression these days. Heaven forbid that we should ever slip again into the kind of monetary quagmire through which we struggled in the 1930s. Those were the days of the long soup lines, of suicides that came of discouragement, of a bleakness of life which few of you can understand. I hope and pray that such hard times will never come again. But I think it not impossible or even improbable if enough people, in the spirit of negativism and defeatism, talk about it and predict it. We are the creatures of our thinking. We can talk ourselves into defeat or we can talk ourselves into victory.” (italics added)
Remember this was said in 1974 and here we are in 2020. The world did not come to an end then, and it’s not going to come to an end now. And we as humans are resilient. We move through the hard times with brilliance and strength.
The human spirit will always be victorious.
I love this C.S. Lewis quote that he wrote during a time of war and discouragement in his country:
“If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. . . . Life has never been normal. . . . Humanity . . . wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. . . . The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive. Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not a panache; it is our nature. [“Learning in War-Time,” The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1980), pp. 21–22]
It is good to remember our inheritance as humans. Our race does not just give up easily. We overcome. We fight. We move forward and life gets better. It always has and it always will. This is the best time to be alive. One last long quote from the famous historian Will Durant:
“I will not subscribe to the depressing conclusion of Voltaire and Gibbon that history is ‘the record of the crimes and follies of mankind.’ Of course it is partly that, and contains a hundred million tragedies—but it is also the saving sanity of the average family, the labor and love of men and women bearing the stream of life over a thousand obstacles. It is the wisdom and courage of statesmen like Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, the latter dying exhausted but fulfilled; it is the undiscourageable effort of scientists and philosophers to understand the universe that envelops them; it is the patience and skill of artists and poets giving lasting form to transient beauty, or an illuminating clarity to subtle significance; it is the vision of prophets and saints challenging us to nobility.
On this turbulent and sullied river, hidden amid absurdity and suffering, there is a veritable City of God, in which the creative spirits of the past, by the miracles of memory and tradition, still live and work, carve and build and sing. Plato is there, playing philosophy with Socrates; Shakespeare is there, bringing new treasures every day; Keats is still listening to his nightingale, and Shelley is borne on the west wind; Nietzsche is there, raving and revealing; Christ is there, calling to us to come and share his bread. These and a thousand more, and the gifts they gave, are the Incredible Legacy of the race, the golden strain in the web of history. We need not close our eyes to the evils that challenge us—we should work undiscourageably to lessen them—but we may take strength from the achievements of the past; the splendor of our inheritance. (Heroes of History, pp.19-20)
5. Positive Emotion is Good for Your Health
Lastly, I want to remind you that when the brain is stressed and in threat mode, it can actually decrease the effectiveness of the body’s own natural immune response. Counter the stress response by getting out into nature (if you can) and taking a break from digital devices and the media (news or social media). Even without unsettling news, doctors have said that two hours in nature per week can drastically improve mental and physical health. From the New York Times:
“A wealth of research indicates that escaping to a neighborhood park, hiking through the woods, or spending a weekend by the lake can lower a person’s stress levels, decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk asthma, allergies, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, while boosting mental health and increasing life expectancy. Doctors around the world have begun prescribing time in nature as a way of improving their patients’ health.”
Vitamin D is good for immunity. If weather permits, get some sunshine. In addition to time in nature, boosting your body full of positive emotions will enhance your body’s immune response as well. One of the most cited positive psychology researchers, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, has shown that positive emotions expand the capacity of the body and mind. This is based on her “broaden and build” theory of positive emotion. One of the easiest ways to increase positive emotion is to engage in Loving Kindness Meditation. This is an ancient Buddhist practice that has been studied by scientists for years. Engaging in Loving Kindness Meditation increases vagal tone, decreases migraines, decreases PTSD, slows biological aging, increases respiratory sinus arrhythmia (a good thing), and has a host of other psychological benefits. All these things will strengthen your immune response, which is the best defense we currently have against COVID-19. Want to try it? Here is a video that will guide you in a Loving Kindness Meditation.
Don’t give in. Fear is powerful, but hope is more powerful if you just make room for it. I hope this has given you some practical reasons for hope to encourage you to lift up your head and rejoice. I would also suggest lifting your head away from the news and pointing your head and your eyes and attention toward the beauty of the earth. Birds still sing. Plants still grow. Sunsets are still stunningly beautiful. Don’t be paralyzed by fear. Be renewed by peace and take advantage of the beauty of solitude. Make this time of social distancing and a time of refresh. A time to connect to the greatness within you. A time to find new purpose and meaning in your life.