A few weeks ago I went on a bad news fast. It’s possible that the world is no worse than it’s ever been – indeed, statistics show that in many ways it’s getting better and better – but our exposure to bad news is getting higher and higher. I was, to quote a friend, suffering from “outrage exhaustion”, and that is how it felt: that my very soul needed to sleep for hundreds of years to wake up fresh and renewed.
So instead of cultivating outrage, I concentrated on cultivating something else.
Hope is a beautiful word, long considered a virtue, lovely enough to be used as a name, and recognised by psychologists as a powerful force. And yet, the word itself is seen as wishy-washy nowadays, implying vagueness and doubt. In fact, several friends and colleagues refuse to use it because of this.
But hope needs to be rescued. Will you help me? We need to rescue it because nothing else will quite do.
Far from vague, hope is actually a “confident expectation of good” and “a positive motivational state”. It is always positive. (Indeed the word that is often used instead, “trust”, can be applied to the negative.) Hopeful people view barriers as challenges to overcome, and find alternative ways of achieving goals; they are higher achievers, and have higher wellbeing and lower levels of depression. Hope drives action; when sad, puzzled or distressed by events, hopeful people will try to find solutions for them.
But perhaps the sharpest demonstration of the benefits of hope comes from the people who have lost it. Hope-less people have lost something vital, something intrinsically human, a spark from the beam of light that is life itself.
That spark is the antidote to all that ails us.
When Pandora opened the box and out flew illness, hate, despair, war, death, and violence into the world, only one thing remained at the bottom of the box. Something different. Something that a merciful Zeus allowed to fly out and follow what had been released, because he knew it would helps us redress the balance and remind us that life is worth living.