Inspiring Hope Without Lying to Ourselves and Others

HopeOur roller coaster ride is not over. Not by a long shot. Back in July, optimism about putting the COVID pandemic behind us was high. A record number of people told Gallup they felt they were thriving. The swing from a 12-year low was remarkable. But now it seems a more truthful assessment is that the challenges we face will not be evaporating any time soon. So the question that seems important as we look forward to a new year is both simple and hard. How do we find inspiration and hope without lying to ourselves and others?

The answer lies in the meaning that we create for our lives.

Attending to Our Mental Health

Gallup tells us we are stuck. A record low percentage of American adults – only 34 percent – say their mental health is excellent. We’ve been stuck at this record low number throughout the pandemic. Typically, before the pandemic, this number always bounced around in the mid forties.

So even though a lot of self-care advice sounds frivolous, this is not. We need to be taking care of our mental health. Even when the challenges are great, taking care of yourself is not futile.

Facing Challenges and Finding Meaning

Dan Sherrell has written a memoir, called Warmth, about coming of age at the end of our world. He is a climate activist, reflecting on the dire situation facing the whole planet. In a recent conversation with The New Yorker, he describes the grief he feels about the ongoing global catastrophe of climate change. People will die because of it, no matter what we do. At the same time that it feels futile, he also finds inspiration:

“Coming together with people who share your values, to try to create a polity and economy that actually treats everybody with dignity – I can’t think of a more meaningful way to spend a human life.”

His reflections are all about finding meaning in difficult circumstances. Glib answers don’t fit. Lying does not provide a sustainable basis for hope and inspiration. For some people, spirituality is a big help. We note that the Gallup numbers on mental health for people attending weekly religious services are steadier.

Clearly, different people will find different answers and few of those answers will be tidy and perfect. But seeking those answers and seeking help when you need it is never futile. In fact, it is what gives our lives meaning.

Click here for The New Yorker podcast about the despair Sherrell and others are feeling. For excellent perspective on self-care when most self-help advice sounds frivolous, click here.

Hope, painting by George Frederick Watts / WikiArt

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December 19, 2021