There’s no doubt about it: the world is seriously messed up. If you’re not feeling a little bit sad right now, you’re probably either already taking an assortment of pills to deal with the pain or you live off-grid in a forest somewhere, blissfully ignorant of ISIS vs Western Imperialism, Monsanto, Ecocide, TTIP, and, of course, Brexit– more on that (sore) subject when I’ve mustered up the energy to get my soapbox out. For now, though, what the world needs more than anything is positivity. So rather than giving into the temptation to hide under your duvet until the day humanity blows itself into oblivion or descends into total anarchy, here are a few proactive and realistic steps you can take to put a smile back on your face.
Bond with mother nature
This is absolutely crucial to restoring your energy levels and feel connected to the Earth. Not only is nature breathtakingly beautiful, but the great outdoors is a great stress-free zone. No wifi and mobile signals messing up your brain, no CCTV cameras, no man-made noise, no light pollution, and no crowds. Whether you’re walking through a forest or sitting down by the ocean, you notice an instant calming effect that soothes the soul. Nature is oblivious to humanity’s problems. No matter what’s going on with our dumb species, the wind keeps rustling in the treetops, the ocean keeps making waves, babbling brooks keep flowing, and birds keep singing. If you live close enough to the wilderness to head out for one hour a day and enjoy the tranquility, do it! If you’re a city dweller, try heading to a park at lunchtime, exercise outside rather than in a gym, and plan regular weekends away to escape the oppressive urban jungle as much as you possibly can. Never underestimate the healing power of the natural world.
Turn off the TV
Television acts like a drug, and even alters your brain chemistry. You should probably do yourself a favour and throw out the brain-drain altogether, but if you can’t go that far, at least try to limit your consumption. Try not to come home and turn on the TV unconsciously; instead plan to only watch shows that are positive, funny, uplifting or educational, and leave the idiot box turned off until then. Start looking for inspirational films and documentaries you can watch on your laptop. Choose your own entertainment, rather than let pop culture choose it for you.
Dwelling on the many urgent global issues that need fixing isn’t going to help you or anyone else, so instead choose just one cause you feel passionate about, and get involved in it. If homelessness is your main concern, maybe you could spend one day a week volunteering at a soup kitchen. If it’s animal cruelty, you could offer to help out at your local shelter. If you simply don’t have time to do this regularly, there are other options: why not organize a one-off local music concert, jumble sale or even a bungee jump to raise money for something close to your heart?
If you need inspiration, click here for 10 specific things you can do to make a positive change in the world, and always remember the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Finally, don’t forget that even those seemingly tiny things make a huge difference. Smile at strangers. Give things to charity. Buy holiday gifts from Fair-trade and charity organizations that pay a decent wage to artisans in the developing world. Just continue being a kind person…and be kind to yourself, too.
Avoid the mainstream news
Fear, terror, shock, horror, fear, terror, shock, horror…it makes absolutely no sense to wallow in the awfulness of it all. What will it achieve? If you can’t avoid the news for work reasons, I feel your pain. But promise yourself to take one month’s ‘media fast’ per year, where you don’t watch or read any news at all. You quickly learn that the negative energy we create when we feel anxious, angry or frustrated at the world is always better spent on positive thought and action. Terrifying news reports tend to spark widespread fear, division, and hatred for ‘the other’, all of which are detrimental to our shared goal of harmony, happiness, and global peace. Apart from the obvious negativity generated by the corporate media, there are various reasons you really can’t trust it to give you an honest account of what’s happening in the world. Consider the growing number of journalists who have come out and blown the whistle on the reality of news-gathering and reporting to expose an industry that cares very little for honesty and integrity. Striving to be a critical thinker can provide much-needed protection against the fear machine, so educate yourself about how the mainstream media actually works.
Channel your frustration creatively
Don’t get mad, get poetic. Writing, drawing, painting, vlogging or blogging, playing a musical instrument, or creating GIFs and shareable memes online are all ways of venting your frustration at the world in a positive way. Creativity is a wonderful antidote to depression. Many people claim they don’t have an artistic side, but I’m skeptical- even doodling on paper can relieve stress, and even if you think you can’t write a poem, you won’t know until you try.
Disconnect (to reconnect!)
A recent study from Denmark suggested we’d all feel much happier if we had a break from social media. The Danish Happiness Institute found that participants who put down their smartphones and quit Facebook for a week were more content, and (not surprisingly) interacted more with real-life human beings. Social media can definitely be used for positive change, but if you’re depressed about the world it could do you good to back away from your smartphone for a few days, at least.
Take control of your mind
Reminding yourself to live in the present moment is a very effective way to eliminate worrying and get some perspective. It’s easy to forget that the past is gone and the future doesn’t exist: all you really have is now. So many of us panic about what might happen or spend a lot of time wishing the past had been different. Since we have no control over any of this, it’s a total waste of your mental energy. If you don’t seem to be able to stop thinking, it’s worth considering meditation. There are even groups that participate in global group meditations to visualize world peace, and these kinds of initiatives have even been credited with lowering crime rates in cities like New York and LA (the idea is that individual brain waves can affect the collective consciousness).
Spiritual philosophers like Louise Hay, Eckhart Tolle, Alan Watts and Jiddu Krishnamurti are well worth checking out for anyone who wants to use positive affirmations, mindfulness, ancient wisdom and meditation to visualize a better planet (or even just to make beneficial changes in your own life). If this all sounds like nonsense so far, I recommend watching a powerful film called ‘What The Bleep Do We Know’, which uses the latest cutting-edge research in quantum mechanics and interviews with leading physicists to illustrate how human beings are truly the co-creators of their own reality. True story! You might also want to read an unusual book called ‘Handbook for the New Paradigm’: it’s very strange, impossible to describe, and requires the suspension of disbelief at times, but it will leave you feeling very hopeful and empowered about the simple steps you can take to wrestle our lovely blue planet back from those who seem intent on destroying it.
Remember: millions of people feel the same as you!
Realizing you’re not alone in feeling despair for the world is important. Even if your Facebook feed is full of intolerance and apathy, it doesn’t mean nobody else cares. Just remember the millions of people around the world who are campaigning for change. Surround yourself with like-minded people, and never underestimate the importance of a hug! Reddit even has a forum for people who are feeling down, so if you can’t speak to anyone in your life about how frustrated and down you feel, try the online community.
Repeat this mantra: “I am not a superhero.” Nobody expects you to be, and nobody is asking you to be. So stop beating yourself up about things that are absolutely out of your control. If you’ve got to the point where you’re so sad about the suffering of others that you’re no longer looking after yourself, you’re really no use to anyone. You’re big-hearted, so it’s normal you can’t stop thinking about the plight of refugees or all those people on the streets this winter- but you’d be much more able to take proactive steps to help them if you make sure you’re healthy and happy first. So exercise, sleep and eat well. Do what you love. Give yourself a break. Be your own best friend. It’s vital to stay happy if you want to make the world a better place. It might sound silly, but just dancing around your living room to uplifting music will give you an instant energy and endorphin boost. Sing in the shower. Smile even if you don’t feel like it. Hey, there’s even a lot to be said for watching funny goat videos.
10. Celebrate and be grateful for the positives
Despite the fact there are so many global issues that urgently need addressing, the world really isn’t as bad as it seems: if you turn off the TV and stop reading the news, this quickly becomes apparent. Statistically, things are getting better across the board: global poverty is reducing, campaign groups like Avaaz are working, and all over the world, people are doing wonderful things and making huge changes. Emily Dickinson said:“Hope is a thing with wings,” and she was right. The best way to make the world a better place is to begin with yourself and those around you. Treat yourself and your loved ones with love and compassion first, and you will likely find this starts spreading. Make just one person smile today, and you have made a difference.
Researchers have found that “people who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis are healthier, more optimistic, and more likely to make progress toward achieving personal goals.” Scientists say that people who write ‘gratitude letters’ to someone who made a difference in their lives “score higher on happiness and lower on depression, and the effect lasts for weeks.” So instead of feeling guilty for your own blessings, say thank you regularly. Every night, make a list of all the positive things that happened to you today, no matter how small. Start your day by telling yourself that something wonderful is going to happen, and within a few days you’ll feel more in control and more optimistic about life – and better prepared to make positive changes in the world.
First published here on the True Activist site (USA) and recycled after Brexit.