How to Cultivate Hope When the World Feels Dark and Scary

by Joanne Clark
tiny buddha

“Everything you can imagine is real.” ~Pablo Picasso

The world is so broken. We are broken. We all need healing.

Recent events worldwide are terrifying and sad. This cold and dark time of year is a challenge for many.

Some of us feel every little thing. We feel everyone’s pain. We are empaths who care for every person, every animal, and the whole world.

Many of my loved ones and friends are like this. My partner’s father recalls that on a trip to a large city nearby (my partner was eight), they saw people living on the street and asking for change. The little eight-year-old wanted to give all of his tiny savings away. Obviously, it wasn’t much and it wouldn’t make much impact on the poverty in the city.

It can feel hopeless. We feel like we will never have enough resources and time to give. We know we can’t solve everyone’s problems. But we want to. And if we don’t, we feel the pain of our perceived failures.

If you’re anything like me, you might struggle to balance the urge to do so much or to just give up altogether. How can we nurture our hopefulness in these uncertain days?

Remember that people act out when they are in pain.

It’s a common negative thinking trap to make things all-or-nothing. If someone does something that hurts us, we can tend to believe that they are all “bad.” We distance ourselves from them in our minds to prove we aren’t like that.

It’s tough to recognize someone’s humanity in these situations, but we need to if we are going to keep our hope alive. People often lash out, spread hate, or act selfishly when they are hurt. They are feeling a deep, broken part of themselves and trying to compensate by making others feel bad too.

I’m not saying that their behavior should be tolerated. They should absolutely be held accountable for their behavior. At the same time, they are human and are still valuable.

Remind yourself that they are people, too, and probably feeling deep pain. This goes for the more extreme cases, but also for the other parent at your child’s school or your boss or politicians.

I feel hope when I remember this. The world is not full of evil people, but hurt people who need love. Recognizing the humanity of others is a beautiful challenge for us to work on. This is an ongoing, lifelong practice.

Respond with love when you can.

Everyone seems exhausted these days. The weight of the world is on all of our shoulders. Whether it’s due to collective or personal struggles, people may be a little more irritable or inpatient with you.

Try your best to respond with kindness. It’s not about you. Someone may be acting immaturely or being a little rude, but if you can, try to let it go.

Visualize their insults rolling off of you, like water off of a duck’s back. Or use a technique I learned from a book, Radical Acceptance: recognize that they are trying to pass their bad mood to you, and kindly say “no, thank you.” Do not accept their gift.

I usually feel better if I have responded to something in a caring way. Of course, we don’t always react as our best selves. You might be the one who is acting a bit rude sometimes, so try to respond to yourself with love about that too.

Be a someone.

My grandmother used to say, “Don’t say someone should do that. Be a someone.” Action can help combat our lack of motivation and hope. If you find yourself thinking that someone should do something, try asking yourself: What can I do?

You can start small and very simply. One day a few months ago, I was in the midst of a personal crisis and I sat crying on the curb of the road. A kind stranger approached me and gently asked if there was anything they could do.

I said an honest no. They responded by standing close by with their hand on my shoulder for a few minutes, then saying a few encouraging words and continuing on.

This small gesture made me feel much less alone in that moment. There are many small things we can do, depending on our ability. If you feel up to it, don’t just walk by; be the someone who stops.

Repeat after me: Magic is real.

I keep a quote by Picasso on my desk that reads, “Everything you can imagine is real.” When I am losing my hope, this reminds me that the world I want to live in, the one I can imagine, is real. It can be real because we create our world.

It’s empowering to recognize the magic we have within us that no one can take away. There is something inside you that no one can take away and you will always have. Remind yourself of your inherent value and hold on to your magic.

Everything you can imagine is real and possible. There are so many people working to build a more kind and loving world. I recognize their magic and I affirm that magic in myself.

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