By Brinadee Bratcher

In the year 2024,  the overall consensus of the public seems to be one of general pessimism. Understandably so, many Americans feel disillusioned by the state of the union and the world. The most frequent response I hear nowadays when discussing the potential to change our current circumstances is “There’s not much we can do now.” If you feel like you’ve been holding your breath waiting for the last shoe to drop on humanity, you are not alone. The challenges facing us in the next 20 years often feel insurmountable. However, as a mother to three young children, I have become somewhat of an expert in re-framing reality. “That’s not a piece of broccoli you’re eating, it’s a big green tree and you my friend are a voracious giant!” 

It works with my three year old, so why can’t it work for us too? As we come into adulthood, I think many of us gain a sense of egoic pride in our ability to perceive the world accurately. Social media has turned us all into critics, and to be fair, there is a certain value that comes from being able to see a problem that needs to be solved and calling attention to it. However, current research on the human psyche would argue that the endless influx of error messages that seem to be flashing on the screen is in fact, the reason why we have become paralyzed to resolving any of them. Like a laptop overrun with malware, we have reached a breaking point and I am here to argue that the solution is to throw the computer away. We as a society are operating on a faulty system. 

Here’s the truth.

Life is not harder today than it was 30 years ago. The world is not worse. By countless metrics, as a species, the human race is improving and evolving. But the mind is flawed in its ability to accurately conceptualize past and current threats. We are hard wired to see the pain and struggle of our time as more pervasive, more difficult to navigate, and more painful than that of our grandparents. But, it’s not. Human beings have always suffered. There has always been war. There has always been discrimination. There has always been scarcity and death. The issue is we are now bombarded with the reality of these things day in and day out, with little reprieve. The result? We all feel like crap.

Barbara Fredrickson is a renowned researcher in the field of psychology who published an experiment testing the impact of positive emotion on cognition and motivation. In this landmark experiment, subjects were primed with either positive, negative, or neutral stimuli in the form of film media and then asked to write down what they would like to do in a given situation. Not surprisingly, the participants who were primed with positive stimuli wrote significantly longer responses than those in the negative group. Not only were their responses longer, the number of ideas they came up with as well as the time they were willing to spend problem solving difficult tasks was significantly higher. When we feel good, we try harder, we think longer, and we are less likely to give up. So, in a world filled with complex issues begging to be solved, don’t you think it would behoove us to prioritize feeling good? 

I know this perspective may seem controversial to some. It is a thin line to walk between entitled delusion and optimistic rebellion but it is a line that we need to learn to toe a little closer in my opinion. If the price of being “woke” is living in a perpetual state of doom and gloom that has been scientifically shown to handicap our critical thinking ability as well as our motivation, perhaps the most self aware thing to do is choose to wear blinders. Temporarily. Long enough to actually accomplish change. 

At this point, I think we are all aware of the issues our country and our world are facing. Rather than spinning our wheels in the mud trying to pull everything out at once, I would challenge you to pick one thing that you feel passionately about and set out to effect change in your community for that singular issue. Mute the news. Unfollow all of the pages on instagram that make you feel bad yourself or others. Ask your friends and family not to speak to you about anything other than good news for two weeks. Point out the beautiful things on your walk. Write down all of the times you ate and didn’t feel bloated. Kiss a stranger’s dog on the mouth. Talk to your Uber driver about their favorite childhood memory. Prioritize feeling good and then write in to me to let me know what differences you felt at the end of two short weeks.

Maybe, the world isn’t burning slowly in front of our eyes…. Maybe it has just lit a few sparks to remind us what it means to be alive. And you my friend, are a voracious giant who eats entire trees in one bite, so surely you can stamp out a few sparks. Especially if we’re all standing up and stomping together. 

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