It didn’t take a world in turmoil to bring me to despair. I got there fine on my own. But when my anxiety and depression pushed me to rock bottom, I grabbed on to a lifeline that helped me scramble back to the surface.
Joy, Lost and Found Again
“Find joy for 30 days,” my best friend Niko said. Although joy felt as distant as a dream, her premise was enticing: joy for 30 days would be long enough to change my life.
But I felt afraid. Hopeless. Powerless. And when I looked around, all I could see were reasons to keep feeling that way. I’d made too many mistakes. Lost too much time. The world was scary and cruel, I told myself.
But then another voice emerged, quiet and calm: “It’s never too late,” she whispered.
I courted joy like a lover, never realizing it was the soulmate who’d been with me all along.
I had forgotten what joy felt like, but it wasn’t too late. Sometimes it’s easier to forget than to remember—but I did remember. One small thought, word, and action at a time, I worked my way back to joy.
My life didn’t look too different on the outside after 30 days, but Niko was right: everything had changed.
I realized that there were forces all around me telling me to forget that I have the power to make a difference, and to follow the path they laid out for me. But I didn’t have to listen to them. I could forge another path.
Through small daily actions of gratitude, mindfulness, and kindness, I trained my brain to gravitate toward optimism. I built up the emotional muscle memory of joy and shifted my world view as well as my world.
Power to the Peaceful
A population gripped by fear or hopelessness is easier to control than a population that feels joyful and empowered.
When we realize that joy is a choice, independent of our external circumstances, the revolution that starts within our own hearts quickly expands to our families and communities. When “impossible” morphs into “I’m possible,” there is no limit to what joy and optimism can achieve.
We don’t see the world as it is; we see it as we are. For every blow of bad news or statistic you hear, there are hundreds more that are positive, hopeful, and inspiring.
Light and dark will always coexist because we can’t have one without the other—but transformation doesn’t come from the light, it comes from moving through the darkness.
Instead of being paralyzed by fear, let’s get motivated, let’s get fired up. And then let’s harness that fire to take inspired action and create a better world. As Brad Montague, the director behind Kid President, described recently, let’s “joyfully rebel against the way things are to create the world as it could and should be.”
If you need an injection of positivity to fuel your optimist fire, check out this good news, and then go make some of your own:
Reason #1: Donations to activist organizations have spiked higher than ever.
Reason #2: Solar power is now cheaper than coal, gas, and oil.
Reason #4: New discoveries in epigenetics show that it’s much easier to change our DNA, through even our thoughts, than scientists previously realized.
Reason #5: We’re actually living in the most peaceful era since the existence of our species.
Reason #6: The kids are alright. Young people are coming up with brilliant solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.
Reason #7: Not all billionaires are bad. Some are actually doing incredible things to change the world.
Reason #8: Vertical forests will soon suck pollution out of smog-filled cities in China and beyond.
Reason #10: Thanks to the internet, social media, and rapid advancements in technology, we can reach and help people around the world more quickly and effectively than ever before.
These reasons are not a justification to ignore the bad and scary things happening in the world, or to become complacent. But I encourage all of us to find joy, stay optimistic, and do our best to embody the change we want to see in the world.
When you feel the weight of oppression on your shoulders, joy is an act of rebellion and activism.
This post previously appeared in part as “You Can Train Your Brain To Be Optimistic. Here’s How” on mindbodygreen.