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How to Feel Better About What's Going on in the World

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Seth J. Gillihan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistJuly 30, 2020

It’s hard to feel good about the world right now.

A global pandemic is killing thousands of people. Lockdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus have devastated the economy. Longstanding racism and inequality have been brought to the foreground through the high-profile deaths of Black men and women. Protests in many cities in the US sometimes turn violent. And politicians – on all sides – seem unable or unwilling to find meaningful solutions.

You might want to hear me say: Don’t worry. Things will get better. This too shall pass. We’ll get a vaccine for the virus. The darkest hour is just before dawn.

But honestly, I have no idea if or when these circumstances will improve.

And maybe it’s okay not to feel good about what’s happening all around us. Because much of it, frankly, is not good.

If we can’t feel better about what’s happening, maybe we can find peace no matter the circumstances. To do this, we have to be willing to let go of our attachment to how we want life to be.

Practice Acceptance

There are times when our view of life simply doesn’t serve us. Because however we think the world should be different—it isn’t. There is no other world. This is it. So, maybe what needs to change are our expectations. Rather than pining for what once was, or fantasizing about what might be, maybe we can fully inhabit this moment we live in. Exactly as it is.

Focus on What You Can Control

The most important question we can ask is not when a coronavirus vaccine will be available. It’s not who will win the next presidential election. And it’s not about when the US will evolve into a more perfect union that values all lives equally. What’s most important is never about anything outside of us. It’s about what lies within our control. That is all. The real questions worth asking are: Who will we be in this moment? What will we bring to it? Where will we find the strength to meet these challenges, and to lift up those around us? How can we be of service in this time, in this place, in these circumstances?

Serve Others

Maybe the way to feel better about the world is to make it a better place, starting with how we treat the people in our lives. It’s amazing how spreading some helpfulness and good cheer can suddenly make it easier to see goodness all around us.

Reclaim Joy

Even if we’re unhappy about how things are going, we can still find joy—without denying the pain and suffering of the world. Emotions are fleeting and depend on our circumstances, but we can access a deeper experience of well-being, even celebration. This kind of joy doesn’t depend on the surface features of our life—on the contrary, the hardships we experience and observe can actually intensify joy like this. You probably know what this is like. Maybe you’ve found joy in the comforting embrace of a loved one at a funeral, or in seeing the grace people are extending one another during the COVID crisis. This is the joy of knowing, even when things are not okay, that all is well.

Find Love

Perhaps we could ask ourselves what it would mean right now, in this pandemic and all the rest, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Just for a moment, breathing through our indignation and our insistence that we’re right, our bewilderment at others’ stupidity and our fear of what’s to come.

That would mean loving those who agree with us, and those who disagree. This imperfect union is our only nation. And these are our fellow citizens. For better and worse. The ones protesting in the streets. The ones protesting the mask mandates. The talking heads on CNN. The ones on Fox News. Those friends from high school who mock our president. And the ones who praise him.

Maybe we could pause for a moment and look at each other simply as fellow human beings. We can always go back to the old way of being, to our anxiety and anger, to our frustration and our rants on social media. But just for a moment, maybe we could take a collective breath together. Breathe in. Breathe out. Let something go.



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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and host of the weekly Think Act Be podcast. He is author of The CBT Deck, Retrain Your Brain, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple, and co-author with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh of A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life. Dr. Gillihan provides resources for managing stress, anxiety, and other conditions on the Think Act Be website.

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