Hello, lovely people. I hope that wherever you are and whatever’s going on in your corner of the world, you’re hanging in there.
I’ve noticed that my post “The Case for Getting Your Hopes Up” has had an uptick in traffic lately, and I’m not surprised. I write a lot on the Rejection Survival Guide about the healing and resilience-building power of hope and the disadvantages of prophylactic pessimism. I believe it’s a message for our times, and I’d like to dedicate this post to exploring that specifically in the context of this pandemic.
We are living in a time of great uncertainty at best, and illness, suffering, and grief at worst. The past six months or so have presented us with challenges we’ve never encountered before. Some people have been able to turn them into opportunity; others have just been hanging on by a thread. Most of us, I think, have done some combination of both.
We have no way of knowing when this situation will end and what the world will look like when it does. I think that several months ago many of us thought we were in for a few months of hardship–flatten the curve, and then we could return to normal life… but in many places in the world, that’s not what’s happening. We’re slowly beginning to understand that we’re in this for the long haul, and we don’t know how we’re going to get through it.
Focusing on What You Can Control
At some point at the beginning of the lockdowns, I encountered a cute little video in which Natan Sharansky–a refusenik who spent 9 years in Soviet prisons–offered 5 tips for getting through quarantine. It’s probably the best advice I’ve heard on the subject, and I encourage you to watch it; but the thing that resonated with me most was tip #2:
In prison, I didn’t know when I would be released. I didn’t know, in fact, if I would be released at all. Don’t build your future plans based on the hope that in the next few days, or the next few weeks, it all will be finished. It does not depend on you. So try to build plans which fully depend on you.Natan Sharansky
Up until that point I had been telling myself: just push through the next few weeks until things get better. But Natan reminded me that there is no way to guarantee that they would. I had to do the best I could to adapt to the situation as it was, to find joy and satisfaction in life under lockdown to the best of my ability, and focus on short-term goals that I had control over–such as my work, which I am extremely, extremely lucky to have been able to continue as usual from home.
At the same time, while we shouldn’t be building our future plans based on the hope that things will get better, we still need to have hope for the future. We need that hope more than we ever did.
There is Plenty to Hope For
I’ve been seeing a ton of memes going around about how 2020 has been the Worst Year Ever and anticipating what bizarre disaster must be waiting around the corner. Every time something scary and outlandish makes a headline, people post it with a “Who had [insert insane occurrence here] on their 2020 Bingo card?” While I’m all for dark humor as a coping mechanism–I am, after all, Jewish–after a while I began to shake my head at those memes. Can we give 2020 a break, maybe? Yes, there have been unprecedented challenges, but it hasn’t all been bad news. And I’m not just talking about little feel-good stories about everyday kindnesses (which are always important to follow). Here in Israel we are still giddy from a momentous, game-changing peace agreement we just made with the UAE, and our countries have been courting each other like an overeager couple on a first date.
We’re all dealing with something incredibly difficult, that’s true, and we don’t know how long it will last, and the ripples it’s triggered in our society are painful. But I don’t think it’s healthy or productive to try and come up with the worst possible scenario for the coming months, or even to cast an entire year as the Worst Year Ever based on these challenges we’ve been facing.
And while I don’t necessarily think we should believe that there will be any major miracles before 2020 is over, I think there is plenty we can hope for.
We can hope that a drug will be found–something common and already approved for safe use–that neutralizes the worst effects of the virus and makes it a lot less deadly. We can hope that the short-term vaccine–passive antibodies–will be developed in the next few months and that those at high risk will be able to receive it in regular doses until a long-term vaccine has been proven safe and effective. We can hope that the more our doctors learn about this virus, the more effectively they will be able to treat and prevent it. We can hope that new technologies, techniques, and testing protocols will be invented that make it possible for us to go about our lives more normally while we wait for a long-term solution. All these ideas are not just my own fantasies: they are based on reports I’ve seen in the news about real studies and inventions that people are working on right now.
And even if none of that pans out, we can look to the long-term future and know that while this situation feels hopeless and endless, it will end. Yes, it feels interminable, and the wait for things to change can be incredibly hard to tolerate. But the light at the end of the tunnel is there, and we will reach it.
I see so many parallels to the things I always write about on this blog. And I think the ideas and techniques I recommend for coping with rejection and impatience apply just as well.
You Need Hope in Your Life
I’ve seen many people taking the attitude of prophylactic pessimism: they don’t want to get their hopes up that something is going to change for the better, because that will make it so much more unbearable if things don’t change.
But it’s like I always say: hope doesn’t have to touch reality to be beneficial. It’s not about what actually happens in the end. It’s about right now, in this moment, having a sense that we are moving towards something, that we have something to live for.
What do you have to live for?
What can you find in this moment to look forward to?
If you can’t find anything–you can create something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be big. Find a little project to work on. Order a cheap little gift for yourself. Find a book to read. A neighbor you can help somehow. The ideas in my post on resilience-building activities may help you here.
And when it comes to the big picture: think about what happens to you when you come across an optimistic headline. When you read an article about vaccine trials moving forward, about a treatment that’s found to be effective. Sense what happens in your body in those moments–how much lighter you feel. That sensation is something you need to be feeling. It’s sometimes the only respite from the heaviness you feel when you read the usual headlines. And it doesn’t matter what happens later. You need to have hope in your life.
And that is why we need to actively cultivate it. To seek out the sparks of hope everywhere and in every way that we can.
So go ahead and get your hopes up. We need to cultivate hope, not stifle it. Now more than ever.
Sending love to all of you. We will get through this. <3
Yael Shahar says
Excellent advice! And as usual, beautifully written. Kol HaKavod!