Staying Hopeful in an Unhopeful World

The world is a mess. My country is a mess. Crimes of inhumanity flooding us through the media. It is overwhelming and hurtful and difficult not to close our eyes and disappear. So, you sensitive souls, you empaths, how do you stay hopeful in an unhopeful world?

I often look to the most thoughtful leaders who live(d) through times of wretched conflict and who never gave up hope for humanity. They are the tragic optimists. The ones that know firsthand about inhumanity (having seen it up close and personal) and yet still have faith in human goodness. Abraham Lincoln, Viktor Frankel, and the Dalai Lama are the big three for me. When I feel our world has gone mad, I turn to leaders who have seen this madness on a grand scale – having survived the American Civil War, the Holocaust, and the annexation of Tibet – and I see that they all remain(ed) hopeful. Their words inspire me to keep hopeful.

Their words remind us that losing or keeping hope is a choice we can make and re-make every day.

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”
Dalai Lama XIV

“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” – Viktor Frankel in Man’s Search for Meaning.

Words of inspiration can soothe our souls, but how do we get through the day? What can we do in our daily lives to keep hopeful? Here is some advice from Psychology Today on 3 Ways to Stay Hopeful:

1. Be kind—to yourself and others:

Curtail your intake on media—we are constantly bombarded by media with “breaking news.” Consider watching/reading a couple of news shows/articles a couple of times a day (once a day is better). Although news reported later in the day is more current, it’s not particularly healthy to go to sleep with disturbing thoughts fresh in your mind. So make sure you read, watch or do something that will replace unwanted thoughts before entering a sleep cycle.

Take mini-breaks—these can be anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, two or three times a day. Shift your focus from whatever you are doing to something that brings you the feeling of happiness. For instance, visually look at the flowers in the office or the clouds floating by or photos of loved ones, or close your eyes and go to your happy place; you’ll feel refreshed.

Practice random acts of kindness—every day! Go ahead and help the elder across the street, or get the item off the top shelf at the grocery store for the person in the wheelchair, or give a sincere compliment to your coworker, or hold the elevator door open for all to enter or exit freely. These random acts will bring a smile to your face as well as the person on the receiving end. Remember: Kindness begets hopeful feelings.

2. Treat each day like a precious gift:

Express love tangibly—be generous with hugs for loved ones, encouraging words for coworkers, and those acts of kindness mentioned above. The more we express our love, the more deeply we feel it and the more hopeful we’ll be.

Revel in the beauty around you—there is beauty everywhere; sometimes we just have to shift our focus. Notice the color of the sky, the grain in the wood, the water dripping off an icicle, the sound of children laughing, or bird song. Beauty is plentiful, and always there. Realizing there is beauty brings with it a feeling of hope.

Be grateful—for everything! The roof over our head, food in the refrigerator, the warmth of a sweater, and for the people in our lives, especially our family and friends. Even in the bleakest of times, we have much to be grateful for.

3. Make a difference:

Volunteer—if you have a special skill, consider sharing it; be a reader at your local school or a helper at a soup kitchen. And if you have a special interest, consider getting involved in an organization that improves the life of others less fortunate. Volunteering puts not only our lives, but the lives of others into perspective.

Make calls, write post cards—if being social isn’t your strong suit, consider making phone calls or sending post cards to government officials to express your concerns. Millions of people feel the same way you do but most won’t take action. And consider breaking the mold by being pro-social – go on a mass march to openly protest injustices to women and minorities and/or to support science, climate change initiatives, etc. Being pro-active is being hopeful.

Be kind—it’s worth repeating! By being kind to yourself and others, you automatically make the world a better, more hopeful place and pave the way for a brighter future. The Dalai Lama reminds us often that shared Compassion makes our world more loveable and liveable, but should begin with self-compassion. YOU are the key! – Rosemary K. Sword and Philip Zimbardo Ph.D.

Be kind, be hopeful. The world needs your compassionate strength.
“Let us confidently hope that all will be well.” – Abraham Lincoln

My Faithful Companions Have Four Legs

My faithful companions have four legs. They also have big hearts. And they LOVE spending time with me. They are always happy to see me, and they are open, so open to life. They encourage connection and kindness and joy. Of course, I am talking about our pets.

What is so wonderful about having pets? Why do so many people have them? The human-animal-pet connection is unique. It is distinctive from the human-human connection, but both share the emotion of seeking and making a connection with other. Many pet owners will say that their pets are a joy and at times, a saving grace, in their lives. Because pets are givers. And they are loyal. They will stay with you and accept you and meet you where you are emotionally. They will stick by you through thick and thin, and they will not judge you. They are faithful friends.

Pets are also open to joyful adventure – both at home and outside. Their curiosity and joy de vie are beautiful to observe. Just watching pets play with stuff at home and watching their reactions to the world around can make you smile. It lightens your heart. And pets are born explorers. Some will go with you wherever you go….because they trust you completely. You can experience the world outside with them, and like them, through all your natural senses. And without speech, your senses are more open.

Google the benefits of pets, and you will find many reasons and much research to support the claim. Your physical and emotional and social health all benefit from your connection with your pets. And our pets keep us in the present moment. This is the biggest benefit and gift that they give to us.

“Pets serve as constant reminders to live in the moment because it is the only way they know how to live. While us humans ruminate over the past and worry about the future, pets simply live in the here and now. Their focus is on whatever is directly in front of them. Pets appear to be simple creatures but in many ways, they are much wiser than their owners. Next time you’re on a walk with your dog or sitting quietly with your cat, remember to stop, look around, and take in the beauty of the moment.” (Emily Holland, The Chopra Center).

Now go enjoy time with yours.

Don’t Dwell in the House of Whatever

Don’t dwell in the House of Whatever. I spent some time there last week. And let me tell you, it can be a nasty place. Depressing. Dark and dusty. It’s hard to breathe the air in there. You don’t realize how stifling it is until you step outside. It takes a few breaths to clear your lungs. To wipe the soot from your eyes. And to remember what it’s like outside the house.

You see the House of Whatever is a dangerous place to live. Very dangerous. We all visit there from time to time. We might stick a toe in or peek our head around the corner. Sometimes we even step inside. Might sit down for awhile. But do not linger. Can’t linger. Even if it’s intoxicating for a split second. Feel it and then back away. Slowly. With determination (because the other people in there, they won’t want you to leave).

I believe that the House of Whatever is the house of complacency. “Whatever” is a bad place to be because “whatever” leads to complacency. And complacency belies despair. Deep despair. Giving up. The kind that is very hard to come back from.

If you are reading this, you likely consider yourself a sensitive person. You feel things deeply – all emotions deeply – including despair. It’s okay to feel all of your feelings. But when you hit despair, look for the nearest life jacket or outstretched hand to pull you back before you drown. Your life jacket may be another person, a pet, a prayer, a walk, a song, a mantra, etc.

You can feel deep sadness and move through it without vacationing in the House of Despair. Sadness and disappointment can feel overwhelming at times, but an empath will move through it and learn from having had the experience. We learn more compassion and understanding of ourselves and of others.

In the House of Whatever, no one cares anymore about anything. There is no compassion. There is no caring. It is a dead place. We are compassionate. We are caring. We choose connection. We choose vibrancy. We choose light.


“I am a Camera with its Shutter Open.”

I am learning the hard way. When my emotions run so high that I can literally hear my own heart beating in my ear, I need to take a step back. Like the wide angle fade back in an old movie, I literally need to become a camera. An observer in the drama surrounding me. It’s the only way I can regain my composure. And hopefully, my compassion.

My transition is to imagine a black and white line drawing with the scene playing out before me, and the wide angle point is leading to me behind the protective lens of my camera. I remove myself from the situation but also remain there ever watchful. I am consciously doing this to remove myself emotionally but still stay present. (In the past, like many empaths, I would have been long gone, but this tactic is helping me to stay.)

What is the point of this endeavor? Of becoming the observer? It gives you perspective. In fact, it gives you multiple perspectives simultaneously. With a cameraman’s eye, you can look at a person as a character in the current drama. And most characters are flawed. It is the human condition. By disengaging and staying present, it helps you to more clearly see what is motivating each person in the room and perhaps why.

Truth be told, I often have to replay a situation as a cameraman after the fact because I have been too emotionally wrought during the real event. This post reflection behind a lens has been very helpful in gaining understanding and compassion for all in the room. Because truly, a character often does not know what s/he does not know. And this can be infuriating in real life. But in a movie, the viewer can garner understanding for said character. And understanding leads to compassion – even for the ignorant or misguided.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite opening book lines from Christopher Isherwood’s memoir Good-bye to Berlin which the movie Cabaret was based on. He captures this idea of recording and watching for later reflection. “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking….Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.” I will add, on your timetable. And with compassion.