Coping in hard times and finding a meaningful life through hope and joy.
Our present world
The world is changing at a rapid pace and there are many challenges wherever you live. Wars, illness, death, bad rumors, poverty, riots and looting, famine and natural disasters, to name a few, may lead to stress and depression; and each of us have our own personal challenges to bare on top of that. There is no way that I want to be glib or trite as I write but many of us take on a fair number of unwarranted issues as well. These things can leave us feeling weighed down and hopeless.
Looking at Victor Frankl:
Victor Frankl was an Austrian doctor, neurologist, psychiatrist and a holocaust survivor. His father, mother, brother and wife all died during the Nazi concentration camps in the Second World War. While he was in the concentration camps he made many observations of his fellow prisoners, as well as the prison wardens. His developed the view that there are two races of people: the “decent people” and the “indecent people” and they are in all walks of life. After he was freed he went on to write many books and died at the age of 92. “Man’s search for meaning” and “Yes to life: in spite of everything” are two of his books. Frankl decided that the meaning to life can be found in every moment of one’s life; much like what many of us think of as ‘living in the present moment’ or ‘practicing presence’; even in suffering and death all of life continues to have meaning. He talks about ‘to have the freedom of choice even in the worst circumstances’ which is connected to ‘holding onto a hope for the future.’ It is how we choose to live that is important. When we lose hope our spiritual self struggles. Victor Frankl was a philosopher of a branch of existentialism and positive psychology. I found him to be an inspiration during my depression and my journey of growth out of depression.
My depression was triggered by my anxiety. At one stage I focused so much on my worries and difficulties that it dragged me down and exhausted me. Sometimes when one has developed a habit of anxious thinking, worry and taking on other people’s problems it is very difficult to break this habit. It has helped to learn to focus on the present moment and the meaning I bring or get from from living life. Developing a hope-filled attitude has also helped me to carry on.
I had the freedom of choice, just like Victor Frankl said, and I could begin to find meaning in life in the little moments. People, these days, talk about practicing gratitude and I guess that is what I began to do more and more. One can’t always be happy but one can find the things that bring joy: the simple things that already exist in one’s life. I learnt to look for these things regularly. What I discovered was that as I practiced gratitude or finding joy in the moment I broke much of the cycle of anxiety and depression. Yes, there are times when I wake up feeling uninspired to get on with the day (I call it feeling “meh.”) I sit with the feeling: sometimes identifying it as tiredness because I have been very busy; and sometimes I identify it as a lack of enthusiasm because I have drained my emotional barrel. These are the times to ask myself what I can do to look after myself or nourish myself. There are also times when life can’t be helped and I feel down, just like anybody else would, when life gives me lemons so to speak; these are the times when I know I need to hold myself with kindness and patience, giving myself space just to feel and be real about them.
One thing I do is to look for the little bits of joy that sparkle in my life much like casting one’s eye over a fabric and observing that it has little sparkly bits which I never saw before woven into it. It is the appreciation of life, love, relationship, and connection that helps me; as well as just taking in the wondrous beauty of nature; this fills my cup too. When I wake up feeling meh I focus on what I can be grateful for and in the evenings, before I go to bed, I regularly think about all the things that happened during the day that I can be grateful for or that bring me joy. This way I fall asleep with joy and hope in my heart.
Gratitude and joy.
Here are some things I ask myself:
- What brings me joy? When last did I experience this joy? What are the things that I am grateful for?
- What are the things I have done today which I am grateful I managed to do?
- Am I grateful for my body, intellect and soul?
- Did I find joy within me or did my surroundings or other people bring me joy today?
- Did I depend on others today or did I find strength independently?
- What strengths and abilities am I most grateful for today?
- Did I receive encouragement, attention or help from others today and does it bring me joy?
- Am I aware that I am valuable without other people’s affirmation?
- Do I know that I am worthy of leading a meaningful life without being perfect?
- Did I avoid doing things that would bring me joy because I was afraid I would not do a perfect job?
- What can I hope for?
We block joy and hope from entering into our lives by perpetuating unhelpful attitudes which feed our expectation. It is very important in hard times to keep cultivating joy and hope for a meaningful life; this is a form of self-care.
I am sure that there is much more that one could add and I wonder if there is anything you would like to add?