There are 500 ways to get depressed about the world today, and 500,000 ways to feel wonderful about it.
Let’s start with the problem. Depending on who you talk to or what YouTube video you watch, the number of existential threats available to us to latch on to seems to be greater than ever. If you spend 5 minutes with trending Twitter hashtags there’s a good chance you’ll go for a walk afterwards thinking, ‘well, better enjoy today’s stroll, it might be the last’. I actually found myself thinking that the other day after seeing a particularly worrisome set of ‘trending hashtags’ in Twitter’s number 1, 2, 3, and 4 slots at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning.
Which reminded me why I very, very rarely go near Twitter.
And that was two weeks ago – guess what, we’re still here!
Gloom and negativity and despair are pervasive and persuasive. I saw a few seconds of a short video on Instagram by a bright, usually positively-positive person brandishing what was, he said, ‘already, for me, the book of the year’ (it was about January 7th) – the book was called something like ‘The End of Nature’. A comment beneath read, ‘is this another one of those books about how we are all doomed?’, and I thought, ha, the commenter feels like me! Fed up with all this non-stop doom!
Let’s be clear. The world has major problems. At the same time, there are already enough people completely anxious and depressed by them, and adding to this number will not do any good. It doesn’t do me any good when I get anxious about one of many existential threats, it doesn’t do my family any good, or the people I hang out with. And I’m sure it doesn’t do the world any good.
So what do I want to do?
1. Put brightness into the world, marvel at and share the wonder and happiness and beauty that is still absolutely present in and all around us. The world is still incredible. In 500,000 ways! Trees, skies, birds, friends, happy kids, walks, butterflies, art, music, books, love, wonder, imagination, good food, good films, companionship, cats, dogs, leaves, central heating, shoes, clothes, beaches, forests…. and on and on the wonders go!
2. Recognise the common-sense-obvious things that are causing a lot of the world’s problems, like greed, rampant consumerism – of goods, resources, digital attention – and go quietly in the opposite direction – don’t do them so much!
3. Be careful not to fall into despair and anxiety. Repeated anxiety and despair are useless. They serve nobody, least of all ourselves or those around us. Whenever I come across something that triggers one of these emotions in me, I practice relaxing and releasing. As soon as I can I recognise the object of anxiety, let it go, and return my attention to the wonders of life again. It’s hard, it takes practice, but it works.
4. Remember, it might (most probably) never happen. Imagine many of today’s seemingly impossible problems are eventually solved – what a waste of time it would have been to suffer so much anxiety about them now! Every age has had terrifying existential problems to deal with. Imagine living in the 15th Century, or the 5th! Famine, war, violence, disease, cold – as Oliver Burkeman writes in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking:
“Try searching Google’s library of digitised manuscripts for the phrase ‘these uncertain times’, and you’ll find that it occurs over and over, in hundreds of journals and books, in virtually every decade the database encompasses, reaching back to the seventeenth century. ‘As a matter of fact,’ [Alan] Watts insisted, ‘our age is no more insecure than any other. Poverty, disease, war, change and death are nothing new.'”
5. Take note of the great, good, intelligent, powerful people out there who are designing, promoting and affecting great, positive change in the world, or putting great beauty into it. While the doom-crowd can be the noisiest, at the same time there are plenty of incredible minds working away on unimaginable solutions to the world’s real problems, and plenty or artists enhancing our lives. There always have been. That’s partly why we are all still here.
6. Make a firm decision not to join the doom and gloom camp. This camp is very well populated already. They’ve got it covered! They really have.
Deicide instead to make people’s lives better when they come into contact with you. To improve days.
7. Stick with the 500,000 things that make this world and our lives incredible, the blue sky, trees, laughter, beauty, a smile… Notice them, read them, listen to them, thank them, write about them, show them to others, save lots of time for them. They are everywhere you look, inside and out, at this very moment, right now.