A friend said to me the other day, I can’t find any joy this year. The world is just too f*cked. Humans are too stupid. I agreed that it’s hard and that the news is tragic. But people suffering far more than most of us manage to find joy and peace and laughter in the midst of suffering and we all have that capacity. Here are six things that have helped me climb out of that desperation tailspin and find joy and peace in a hard year.
1.) Remember that there are 7 billion of us and the vast majority of interactions between humans today will be kind. Moms and dads will love their children like mad. Teachers will teach despite crappy salaries. Volunteers will lend a hand for the poor and suffering. There will be horrors too. We need to do what we can to help. But we are not all Super heroes and the news tricks our ancient cave man brain, the amygdala, into thinking tragedy is everywhere always. It’s not. That tragedy disturbs us means we – the vast majority of humans – want goodness and love. Most of us will do good and find ways to love today.
2.) Remember that you’re mortal. It’s hard to read news of sickness and death but we all get sick and die and we often forget that basic fact. Reflect every day that death is coming – not in a morose way but as a reminder that every moment is precious and that you can spend your life fretting or use the days or years you have left to laugh, love, be present, and give what you can. If you believe in a soul or “mindstream,” as Buddhists call it, this reflection is also an opportunity to remember that ancient wisdom traditions from all parts of the world say our true nature or soul is unmoved by sickness, and that death is merely a transition of the mind or spirit.
3.) Remember joy and optimism are contagious. The more you appreciate the little things today, the more likely those around you will appreciate little things too. Quite literally, staying joyful – or at least appreciative – helps stave off the fear, anger, and stress that fuels so much cruelty. It also helps us find creative solutions. Often we feel like we have a responsibility to be cynical to be “real” about the world’s problems. Being skeptical and discriminating is good. Cynicism helps nobody.
4.) Frame hardship as a positive. Nobody ever found lasting joy from being fed beauty and riches and ease from a silver spoon. The wisest, most brilliant, most happy people have become that way, almost always, by enduring suffering and finding meaning in it. If today is hard, that’s good. That’s where the growth is.
5.) Be silent and unplug. Joy and peace come from inside, not outside. Most likely the bad guys aren’t going to get away with more bad stuff if you take a two day break from the news to meditate or go on some quiet walks. Our biology wasn’t built to take in non-stop tragedy on our phones. Take a conscious break and follow your breathing. If you do this just 20 minutes a day, all the research shows you’ll find a better sense of well being.
6.) Do what you can to help and then let go of the results. Amy and I gave UNICEF donations for our friends instead of presents this past Christmas. It won’t do much in the big scheme. But between our jobs and children and surviving, it was what we could handle. There will always be tragedy, but if there is one thing ancient mystics agree on it’s that the universe is unfolding as it should. We are merely waves on that vast universal sea. All we can do is love as fiercely as we know how and let go of how that love works through the great mystery- an ocean that is far more vast than we could ever conceptualize.
To go deeper on these six points, pre-order my forthcoming Harper Collins book, All Our Waves Are Water.