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How to have hope in a bleak world

A lot of people seem to think the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

As if:

  • This was the first time life was unfair
  • This is the first we’ve seen violence in the streets.
  • This is the first time a pandemic has circled the globe.

But you see, for many people who have lived in a “Hey, look at me because I’m so cool” bubble, this is the first time they haven’t been shielded from the unpleasantness of their world. They’ve found that this thing called life can be messy, unpredictable, and crazy!

Well, aren’t you special?

This may come as a shock to many, but this is not the first time the world has been messed up beyond recognition and left people feeling lost and without hope.

Previous generations lacked the physical and material comforts that we take for granted and yet they continued to plow forward -- through economic hardship, world wars and devastating illnesses.

Flash forward to 2020, annus horribilis, and we still suffer, only now we are emotionally and psychologically struggling to make sense of what’s going on in the world. Regardless of what you may think right now, the world has never been healthier or seen more racial equity.

So why the sense of hopelessness and depression that affects 53% of adults in the United States? People lack hope in a bleak world because they are:

1. Starved for the fairy tale

The popularity of Marvel Comics movies is no coincidence. People are bored with normal heroes, they want superheroes who fly through the air and save the world with a couple of punches. While these books and movies can be entertaining, we tend to forget something very important in the process: They are fantasies, folks. Not the real thing.

We all loved fairy tales where Cinderella gets her prince, but we forget that Cinders spent years of drudgery and hard work before Lady Luck shined down on her. Here’s the thing: She sucked it up and did the hard work. She faced real threats in her environment -- she was malnourished, suffered physical assaults and was shamed for her situation in life.

We are so starved for the fairy tale ending that we ignore what it takes to get there. In doing so, we ignore the realities of the world in which we live. We lose hope because we’re not prepared to overcome what is unpleasant, hard, unfair or difficult.

You want to read about difficulty? Read history. You feel sorry for yourself now? Read history. You think this is the end of the world? Read history. Yes, this is a crappy time for most of us, but this is not the first time people have struggled to make meaning out of their life, and it won’t be the last.

How to make it work for you: Stop searching for silver bullets that will make everything OK. You’re not in second grade anymore. Instead, recognize that your job is to make incremental changes where you can, and every once in a while you’ll hit a breakthrough that will create a big change.

2. Focused on the wrong values

Extremists are children dressed up as adults. They insist that their values are more important than anyone else’s. They refuse to acknowledge interests or opinions that differ from their own, and they insist that their version of the world is the right one.

If there is any confusion on the acceptable way to think about issues, extremists resort to intimidation and virtue signaling so there is no doubt that they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Extremists are willing to cause pain and suffering so they can eliminate the moral inferiority of the people they despise. In other words, eliminate people who think differently. Now, that sounds real mature, doesn’t it?

We are not surrounded by crushing world events so much as we are surrounded by immaturity. Our world problems have jettisoned way past what is right or wrong; we are now in the clutches of childish behavior and values. It’s a “me first” mentality, my "right to be my own God" approach to life, that causes hopelessness.

How to make it work for you: If you listen to your inner wisdom, you instinctively know that life isn’t really about you and your petty problems. Everyone has value, no matter their opinions, so grow up and treat people with respect. Even those with whom you disagree -- especially them.

3. Sucked in by happiness

Our vacuous and self-focused culture only asks us to identify what makes us happy, and then gives us permission to substitute happiness in life for a purpose that provides meaning to our life.

Our pursuit of happiness is toxic because it conflates the good life with living a good life. We all suffer, but if we’re mature and smart about it, we suffer for the things that matter to us.

Our fixation on happiness has produced a crop of people who don’t know how to function in the real world. Protecting people from obstacles and adversity won’t make them happier; they simply become insecure. They have no compass in a storm because they’ve been raised to look at any inconvenience as intolerable.

Our values are defined by what we are willing to struggle to achieve. If something holds value for us, we will endure the pain and struggle of making it happen. The person we become is defined by the way we overcome our struggles, suffering and pain. Our greatest moments in life will be defined by these things, not by our pathetic attempts at happiness.

Joy is a lasting attitude, while happiness is an ephemeral emotion. Demand more from life than a few fleeting moments of an emotion that draws its power from others. Instead, dare yourself to dig down deep and find joy.

It is in our choices that we become mentally tough. We learn to prioritize our emotions, thoughts and behavior so we can pick what is important to us based on our values and beliefs.

How to make it work for you: Good values are achieved internally; bad values rely upon external circumstances. Once you’ve defined your values, prioritize them. What are the values you place above all else? These are the ones that influence the decisions you make in work and life.

4. Not willing to have faith in something bigger than themselves

Anxiety and depression are a crisis of hope. When we deal with adversity and obstacles, our hope narrative is what gives us a sense of purpose. Hope boils down to this: We have reason to believe we can grow to become a better person in the future and that there are ways we can move toward that growth.

Hopelessness means we’ve lost touch with what matters to us. Why push on? The world has become one big toilet bowl about to be flushed.

We must have faith in something. We need to find value somewhere. It’s how we psychologically survive and thrive. The opposite of joy and contentment is hopelessness. It’s an endless gray horizon of resignation and indifference.

The spiritual dimension of a person helps them answer this question: Why am I here? This also does something else very important by giving them hope. They believe things will improve, and they will be the one to improve them. Hope is sadly missing in today’s society.

The World Health Organization has found that religion, personal beliefs and spirituality give people a sense of purpose and hope. Spirituality encourages people to explore what builds the human spirit.

The world is a scary and stressful place that values perfectionism, materialism and selfishness over human connection. Any spiritual belief and practice is a way to bring hope back into our lives. Without hope, we cannot be brave.

How to make it work for you: There’s no one best way to explore your spirituality. Everyone’s path toward the holy is different and unique, but here are some useful suggestions:

  • Make time for prayer or meditation as a part of your daily routine
  • Read scripture, sacred texts, or other writings that inspire you
  • Join a group that worships or practices together
  • Experiment with physical expressions, such as yoga, walking, singing or dancing

 

Are you mentally tough? Here is my free 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Get Quy's new book, “Secrets of a Strong Mind (second edition): How To Build Inner Strength To Overcome Life’s Obstacles" as well as “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths." Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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