So the world is going to hell in a handbasket right this very minute. According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker, there are 26 armed conflicts currently going on in different regions of the globe. CFR helpfully separates the bloodshed into categories according to the potential impact on the U.S.: Critical, Significant, and Limited. For example: Afghanistan = Critical, Syria = Significant, and Mali = Limited.
I doubt the residents of Mali feel there’s anything limited about the impact of violence and chaos on their lives. But I digress.
As you go about your day, you and all the rest of us are scrabbling on the brink of global war. And our leaders seem able to do little but shove us toward the cliff.
While everybody’s fighting and screaming, the climate is going haywire as we hurtle toward the Sixth Mass Extinction. Zillionaires respond by sopping up all they can of the world’s resources while we little people work ourselves silly, hoping to glean the crumbs.
Our children can’t assume they’ll have the lifestyle we enjoyed growing up, or even the lifespan. But perhaps they don’t notice: social media is turning them into boggle-eyed strangers in thrall to their screens.
There are a million reasons to despair. Despair is easy.
Despair is chicken spit.
The world may indeed be in more existential trouble than it has ever been. But it is also the repository of wonders and the wellspring of miracles.
While the news media is hypnotized by fighting and division, human curiosity and ingenuity persevere. Assuming you believe in things like science — actually it doesn’t matter to science if you believe in it or not, a feature it has in common with reality itself — scientific discoveries and achievements in the less than two decades of 21st Century are astonishing.
We’ve sequenced the human genome. There is water flowing on Mars. Dark matter really is a thing. We can make robotic body parts and grow human organs from adult stem cells. A German company has developed a technique that turns water into fuel.
And the Ligo Project in the U.S. has detected gravitational waves. Which means that time travel, at least of a sort, may actually be possible.
At the same time, artists and filmmakers and musicians and writers and actors and dancers keep on doing their breathtaking, spellbinding stuff. Much of it is accessible to us at the click of a YouTube channel. And I don’t have to tell you how much better television has gotten in the era of Netflix and Hulu and their brethren.
Meanwhile, seeds keep sprouting, birds still spangle the sky like flying jewels, people keep meeting and laughing and talking and sometimes falling in love. Babies keep getting born, each one of them a unique, unlikely, and wildly vulnerable miracle.
All of this is happening on this little whirling planet, the only home we have. We protect what we love, and love is powered by joy, not despair. So while it’s understandable if you get down in the dumps from time to time — especially if you spend too much time watching TV news — please don’t stay there.
Do the courageous, maybe unreasonable, thing. Find your happiness. Embrace every good thing you can find in every moment you’re given.
This doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to misery, greed, and peril. Do what you can to make things better. You can’t save the world by yourself (unless, maybe, you’re Elon Musk), but you’re far more likely to take whatever action you can if you hang onto hope. And you’ll be happier for it.
The Earth Island Journal, in its 2019 winter edition, carries an interview with Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist who is so effectively riling up the planet’s plunderers. She famously ditches school every Friday to sit in front of the Swedish Parliament building, demanding that Sweden align itself with the Paris Agreement.
It’s mostly not glamorous. She hangs out from 6:30 AM until late afternoon, reading and keeping company with her handpainted sign. But here’s what she says about it:
I feel like my life has a meaning, that this is something I have to do and, yeah, except from being pretty tired, I’m very happy.
Greta’s life has meaning, and so does yours. Find your happy. The world in all its messiness needs you, or you wouldn’t be here.
Just trust me on that.