Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Hopeful Thinking- Saturday, October 29, 2022 - There’s Hope After All

Do humans demonstrate more hope than despair? It’s a worthwhile question. One for which I believe I have a concrete answer. Hopefully. I believe the answer is yes. And I believe the simplest evidence for that is the fact that we just keep getting up every day.

When things are truly hopeless, meaning objectively and literally without hope, they generally begin to shut down on their own. This fractal of reality occurs in the natural extinction of a species, in a game of chess, the demise of a giant corporation, even by molecules in the melting of ice. 

However, every day billions of us keep getting up. Even those in the midst of struggle and despondency. Even those who can’t imagine good coming. We keep trying. We keep aspiring to things. Why is this so? Where does it come from, this inner directive to not give up, even while feeling as though humanity has sometimes given the appearance of utterly abandoning all hope? 

My sense is that if it were really true, if humanity had really given up on itself, we simply wouldn’t keep getting up in the morning. If we really believed the future was hopeless, we wouldn’t keep trying to make it better. On some level, we must not have given up hope. Is there evidence to the contrary?

I’m sure there are many things one could point to and declare it to be a harbinger of end times. But that’s a conversation that’s been happening for at least a couple thousand years now. It’ll happen when it happens if it happens. If you definitively believe the end of the world is nigh and yet keep getting up in the morning, you must have more hope than despair about it. Lean into that  

If we do acknowledge that there is more hope in the world than despair what should we do with it? What good is that fact? Firstly, just believing that others have hope can act an antidote to our own despair. Take advantage of that knowledge by giving inner thanks for the hopeful people in the world. Tell the waitress you’ll “have what they’re having.” Feel gratitude for the existence of hope.

Does that sound like too frivolous a mental exercise? Does it sound silly to consider being hopeful and grateful as a key toward better physical and emotional balance? A lot of books have been written about the effects of these thoughts on our bodies and ideas. There is empirical evidence as well included in them. Don’t discount it.

As a place to begin, simply think: I am grateful  for and appreciate the presence of hope in this world. Then spend a moment marinating in some thought on that idea. Think of an example of something where hope exists. Let it physically affect you, even if only for a few seconds. Take it to a place where you might even feel a lump in your throat, or goosebumps, or faster breathing, faster heartbeat. Ride that for a bit. 

If you can’t think of a worthwhile example of hope off the top of your head, feel free to do a little homework ahead of time so that you have a ready thought to ruminate on when you begin the exercise. 

Examples of things that are hopeful are: seeds, savings accounts, caterpillars, puppies, a gentle rain, a college education. Think about things you still want to do and haven’t yet given up on. 

Every moment you spend doing this mental activity are moments when you are literally healing your body. Among other physical benefits, your optimal thought patterns generate a beneficial hormone response. By ruminating on thoughts of hope and gratitude you are supplanting harmful stress chemicals in the body like cortisol and adrenaline with helpful ones like serotonin and dopamine. And for extra credit, take note that the only way to release adrenaline and cortisol from your body is cardiovascular exercise.

If we can admit to ourselves that there are reasons out there in the world to be hopeful, we can better amplify within ourselves the beneficial effects of hope as a productive form of energy. What might the world become if a few more of us thought this way? I certainly have hope in that.

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