The Hopefulness Cure

Reflections, reminders, and lessons from 2020.

Posted Dec 18, 2020

We made it. 

We survived. 

If you are able to read this then it indicates that:

In the year 2020, you didn’t die from Covid or through any other illness or cause.

You still, in all probability, have some ability to think, reflect, consider, and make choices.

You proved to yourself that you can survive and can stand what you don’t like (you simply don’t like it).

In various countries around the world, 2020 included a number of and a variety of events, challenges, and difficulties. The year included extreme events in different locations within the natural world, unfortunately, caused in some instances by the negligence, ignorance, and, or, cruelty of some humans. There were severe fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, and the like.

There was intense political activity in various countries, including possible maneuvering in some of them, and in some countries, elections were held with consequential unrest.

There was racial unrest and there were tragic killings.

There were the other maladies that, in any year, can befall finite humans in this biological world of chemical processes, molecular interactions, physiological mechanisms, development, evolution, and eventual demise.

The event that seemed to affect people in practically every country around the globe was the appearance and spread of the Covid-19 virus. At the time of writing this post, close to 1,650,000 people have died from the virus, and millions have been left grieving for their loved ones lost. Millions succumbed to the illness and continued to suffer symptoms even when out of danger. Jobs were interrupted and, or, lost. Workers in a variety of professions and students were forced to adapt to new ways of remote working and learning.

Many people experienced loneliness and isolation that they had never faced before. The number of people suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, and other debilitating emotions grew at an alarming rate.

There were also remarkably positive happenings during 2020. Babies continued to be born. The seasons continued to change and flow from one to the other. The earth, moon, planets, stars, continued their journeys in the Cosmos. Oceans and forests continued to host the myriad of awesome life-forms within them. There was not one day in which the Sun refused to rise and set and rise again the next day.

The resourcefulness, skill, and tireless dedication of researchers, scientists, and doctors led to them create effective vaccines with great chances of helping multitudes of people and of preventing millions upon millions of deaths from this virus in the coming year and in years to come. That’s very "Wow."

We witnessed the creativity and resourcefulness of people who surrendered to restrictions such as mask-wearing, self-isolation, curtailing social events, and who subsequently developed enriching and useful ways to use their time.

A light of clarity shone on many relationships in which, prior to 2020, individuals within relationships spent much less time with their partners than they did after the start of Covid. Some of these relationships endured and even became stronger. Others ended, perhaps for the best. They ended not because of Covid, but because issues and differences that were not fully faced head-on before 2020 were brought to the fore.

The nobility and magnificence of the human spirit were seen again and again in the behavior of those in health care and medical fields, in that of other essential workers, and through the actions of kind neighbors and in volunteers who went out of their way to attend to other people by helping them in any ways they could. In my field of psychotherapy, large numbers of therapists offered help to people who were suffering from anxiety, depression, or the like and who could not afford to pay for therapy.

Gratitude emerged, greater than ever for some. Gratitude for what was still good, despite and including the rough stuff. People felt gratitude for being alive and maintained focus on the belief that in life during times of challenge and struggle they can rightly and upliftingly hope for better days ahead. Chosen hopefulness emerged, in which people remembered what they cherished, loved, and missed during that restrictive and challenging time, and they optimistically anticipated re-experiencing many of those things in days to come.

Image by Debbie Joffe Ellis
Source: Image by Debbie Joffe Ellis

We can learn from all that has transpired: learning how to prevent negative elements, and learning how to enhance and increase the positive ones. We have the potential to empower ourselves with conscious wisdom and confidence, and an emboldening acceptance of that which we can change when some outer events seem immense and out of our control. We can choose to change any self-defeating thoughts, we can choose to adopt realistically optimistic views in place of pessimism, and we can empower ourselves with vigorous determination to cherish every day of life and the gifts and possibilities within each one. We can resolve to adopt a life-enhancing practice of being grateful every day. We can spend significant time caring for and helping other people, animals, the environment, and any other noble causes that contribute to making this world a more civil, peaceful, and healthy place. It’s our choice.

Some of the very unhelpful and habitual human tendencies that contributed to people creating emotional suffering at the Covid time, which may have been learned early on in life and never challenged, fortunately, can be replaced with healthy habits. Achieving this takes identification of the beliefs that fuel unhealthy tendencies, the disputing of these irrational beliefs, and then replacing them with life-enhancing rational beliefs. With ongoing willingness to be aware of our thinking and to take action whenever we notice any self-defeating beliefs, and by making ongoing effort to change them, healthy emotions can be increasingly experienced no matter how dire the situations that we are facing may be.

The unhelpful tendencies referred to included:

  • Catastrophizing: Believing that things are the worst that they possibly could be. This is a sure recipe for anxiety, extreme fear, panic, stress, and despondency. By reflecting on the situations and admitting that (unless we are critically ill or in debilitating pain) as bad as they are, they could always be worse, and by making effort to adopt a healthy perspective rather than a totally pessimistic one, we can create healthy emotions such as concern rather than anxiety, and hope instead of despondency. 
  • The Need for Certainty: This contributes to anxiety, frustration, extreme anger, hopelessness, and then some. If we are willing to reflect on the futility of adopting any quest of searching for that which in actuality is unattainable – we may stop such futile striving, and experience healthier attitudes and emotions such as acceptance and calm. The fact is, apart from death, nothing is truly certain in this life. Sure, some things have a high probability of taking place, but that doesn’t make the possibility of them happening a certainty.
  • The Presence of Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT): in which we demand that things be the way we want them to be; insisting that they ‘should’ happen when we want them to happen, and we tell ourselves that we can’t stand it when things aren’t the way we think they ‘should’ be. When we do this, we tend to create frustration, annoyance, impatience, irritability, agitation, and worse. One of the main elements of irrational thinking is the rigid holding of “shoulds” and “musts”. Such demandingness can bring a person down through creating the unhealthy emotions named above. Instead of harboring demands, it is much better to have goals and desires that we work to fulfill. Doing so is very beneficial and encouraged as, if it turns out that we don’t achieve our goals, healthy emotions such as sadness and disappointment, instead of the disturbing emotions named above, are created. The development of High Frustration Tolerance (HFT) is encouraged and gained when we do what we can to change what we don’t like, accept what we can’t change, and remind ourselves that we can stand what we don’t like.
  • Damning ourselves, others, and life when things don’t go the way we think they should: The healthiest, happiest, most resilient, and fulfilled people make effort to experience, maintain, and practice Unconditional Self Acceptance, Unconditional Other Acceptance, and Unconditional Life Acceptance. There are many people who chose to practice forgiveness and unconditional acceptance following tragic events and were the better for it. They include people such nature as Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Victor Frankl, my parents, and countless other survivors of wars and terrorism and who refused to harbor hatred and bitterness.

For those of us who have lost loved ones in the past year, or at any time, it is helpful to embrace healthy grief, not fear it. The early days after a loss can feel raw and agonizing. But with time it is possible to recognize that our grief is inseparably bonded to our love for those we’ve lost. We can choose to allow ourselves to contemplate our gratitude that they were in our lives for the time that they were there. We can keep their spirits alive and experience tranquility and peace through tender recollections that we sustain in our minds and hearts, and by sharing those memories with others. I am aware that what I’ve expressed here could sound to some readers like some simple, idealistic, feel-good platitudes; it would sound that way to me too if I didn’t know from my own experience, and that of other people who I know well, that it is possible.

Loss, Grief, and Change are part of the human experience, that grand and colorful tapestry of elements that include thinking, feeling, behaving, creating, loving, and for some of us, embracing the opportunities that both joy and suffering give us to evolve and transform into more of what we can be —elevated, empowered, and happy.

As we reflect on this past year of 2020 let’s contemplate the fact that each of us actively creates our own destiny. We can choose to maximize tranquility and stability by diligently applying ourselves to the empowering goal of adopting realistically optimistic perspectives from this moment on.

It’s our choice. Let’s make it!

Image by Debbie Joffe Ellis
Source: Image by Debbie Joffe Ellis