Ignorance is bliss. For the informed, or the “woke”, the current conditions of the world can be disheartening and lead to pessimism, hopelessness, and even depression. Every day, our Facebook feeds and news sources remind us of the inequality, poverty, environmental disasters, and general suffering that are occurring all around us. It is not surprising that some climate scientists report suffering from depression, feelings of hopelessness, and even “pre-traumatic stress,” as their studies on future climatic impacts leave grim results. However, succumbing to the rising tides of global shit does nothing but drown yourself and ease the way for more vulnerable people to also drown.
To help, I have outlined four recommendations on how to mentally and emotionally cope with all of the shit in the world:
- Acknowledge that we are getting better. A century ago, (white) women were just granted the right to vote. Before that, we had a legal and proliferating global market of trading captured humans for slaves. Before that, Kings and Emperors would storm through villages raping and plundering everything in sight just for jurisdiction over land that would remain unaffected by their reign (and of course for emotional fulfilment and validation). In fact, according to Steven Pinker, a New York Times best-selling author, we are living in the most peaceful time of human history. The point is, we might be in shitty times, but shittier times preceded this one; and although the process might be slow, we are evolving to become more egalitarian and more sympathetic as a global society. We might only feel that this is the peak of humanity’s greed and selfishness because of the globalization of information and the selective information to which we are exposed—which leads me to my second recommendation:
- Recognize that we hear mostly about the bad and not the good. Media is programmed to exaggerate the negatives. Not only does negative news garner a bigger audience, but the constant negativity also causes our bodies to secrete cortisol, which increases our anxiety, depression, and paranoia levels, and causes us to yearn for more toxic media to in hopes of alleviating our internal stresses. Pinker has confirmed this phenomenon through his interaction with colleagues in the media industry: “Media scholars who tally news stories of different kinds, or present editors with a menu of possible stories and see which they pick and how they display them, have confirmed that the gatekeepers prefer negative to positive coverage,” Instead of accepting the bombardment of negative news, try to actively seek out examples of environmental and social movements or organizations working towards creating a better world. Here’s a link with which to start.
- Acknowledge how little and insignificant we are in the universe. Click this link for an amazing video that illustrates the enormity of our universe. We are tiny little people on this tiny little planet in this corner of the universe that has an inexplicable (for now) connection with us. The Earth has preceded life’s existence for billions of years and life has preceded human’s existence for millions of years. I know this might not sound like it’s supposed to boost our emotional and mental stability, but my point is that all of the greed, violence, exploitation, and imperialism sucks, but it’s not the only thing to ever exist and it will not last forever. Becoming depressed and hopeless about the state of this tiny planet is just unnecessary when you put everything into (universal) perspective. With that said, our universal insignificance doesn’t diminish the reality and suffering of millions of people from hunger, poverty, corruption, climatic impacts, and what have you—which leads me to my last recommendation:
- Recognize that your suffering doesn’t alleviate the suffering of others. You can work towards a better world in a number of ways, but you will be unable to help if you are stuck in bed held down by the weight of the world’s problems. In order to help others, you must first take care of yourself. Further, instead of trying to fit within the duality of pessimism and optimism in your feelings towards the world, focus on meliorialism–a term coined by Voltaire to refer to the desire to work for improvement. Maybe the glass isn’t half full, but working to fill the cup can do no harm.
The world is too shitty for us to internalize that shit and feel bad about ourselves and our roles in contributing to the shit. But when shitty things seem to engulf us, try to remember the age-old words of wisdom from one of our greatest sages: Don’t worry, be happy.