Tag: hope


In his classic book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”, Dr. Seuss writes: “You have your brains in your head, you have your feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” It seems that we humans are, by nature, a hopeful group. This is, in fact, true.  Hope is a belief that things will be better no matter the odds.  Even though it might be unlikely that a positive outcome will occur, we retain hope.  We can even feel hopeful during times of stress and adversity.  Indeed, it is remarkable that so many trauma survivors feel positively about their futures.  It’s not surprising that hope is the single most important predictor of well-being for those who have lived through tough times.  So, it’s true: hope does spring eternal. Some say that hope is the same as optimism, but it is not.  We can, after all, feel hopeful even when we are stuck in a pessimistic place.

Hope written on Foggy glass on window

Hard-wired to hope

The science behind hope is quite remarkable.  We have learned that our brains are hard-wired to feel good about our future.  There is an area of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex that is the neurological area from which the state of hopefulness arises.  When this area is active, our brain releases endorphins which improve our moods and make us feel better.  So it is actually a fact that we are biologically wired to experience hope. Even more remarkable, we can change our brains over time so this neuroanatomical center can become more active.  It is a commonly held misperception that we are destined to lose brain cells as we age.  This is not true.  Our brains are malleable and we can grow new brain cells by doing new things, thinking new thoughts, exercising and eating certain foods.  It turns out that we can learn to choose hopefulness in the same way we can choose the clothes we wear everyday.  

Hope springs eternal

Despite this, there are times when we feel negatively about our future.  It is the human condition that this happens.  During these periods, our hope area is still present in our brain but it is covered up with grief or anger or despair.  All we have to do to feel better is deconstruct the walls we sometimes build around our hope centers. Our resilience and courage in doing so is being human in the most admirable ways.  

Hope is a soft light that comes from within us.  It illuminates a pathway forward out of the darkness that we sometimes feel.  It’s like lighting a match when we are standing in a dark tunnel.  If we believe in a better tomorrow, we can navigate through adversity today.  Hope allows us to move in the direction of our dreams.  So, light up the hope center in your soul.  If you do, with your brains in your head and your feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose.  After all, hope springs eternal.

Faith: Touching Shadows

Last week, on a bright sunny day, I was sitting in the shade of a maple tree.  As the sun slowly arced across the sky, the shadows cast by the tree moved across the ground.  Were I to reach out and try to touch those darkened areas, all I would feel would be the earth beneath my finger tips.  Touching the shadows that lay in front of me would always be elusive, though they existed right before my eyes.  

Faith written on rural road

Questioning Faith

A week ago, a woman asked me for advice about her son who had bipolar disorder.  She explained that for the past ten years, he would be adherent to treatment for periods of time and then he’d refuse to take his medications, denying that he needed them.  She witnessed him cycle through periods of wellness and illness, impotent to do anything helpful at all, she felt.  She wanted to know what advice I had for her and my answer was two words: have faith.  How naive I must have sounded, suggesting something that could be construed as nothing more than a trite sound bite.  After all, having faith is easy to suggest, but seems near impossible to feel at times of great distress.

Having Faith

I explained to her that her faith would be well placed because of all those working every day to find cures for the many psychiatric disorders that continue to afflict too many of us.  Her faith would be well placed in the many treatments that already exist that can work wonders to stabilize moods for those with bipolar disorder.  Her faith would be well placed because so many people with mood disorders find their way toward mental health and lead wonderful, rich lives.  Her faith would be well placed because her son had periods of time when he was adherent to recommended care, an excellent prognostic sign.  Her faith would be well placed because her son knew that he had a mother who supported him fully in becoming and staying well.  Her faith would be well placed because she loved him.  Her faith would be well placed because she was part of a worldwide community of those whose hearts are in the right place, supporting their loved ones as they walk down the challenging road of life.  Her faith would be well placed because she was not alone.

Touching Shadows

It’s so hard to retain faith during the difficult times that we face in our lives.  But when we are caught in distress, somehow we journey on believing that tomorrow will be a better day.  Even though we can’t know what our future holds for us, we take a step forward during those dark times.  But darkness can be no more than a space on the ground that is cast by a tree on a sunny day.  It’s not something that we can physically touch but we see it right in front of us.  The shadow exists without any doubt.  And here’s the thing:  that shadow is there only because of the light cast down from sunshine on a bright day.

Quieting our Unquiet Minds

In her epic decision to crash through the wall of silence, clinician Kay Redfield Jamison made the bold decision in 1995 to reveal that she has bipolar disorder.  Her bestseller, An Unquiet Mind, describes her terrible depressions that led to a suicide attempt and her elevated highs that caused reckless spending sprees and acts of violence.

Kay Redfield Jamison book cover of An Unquiet Mind

Her revelation was courageous. She stepped forward at a time when others didn’t in the midst of a successful career, placing her life’s vocation at risk.  Even more impressive, she went on to become one of the nation’s leading experts on mood disorders.  She is the definition of a courageous trailblazer and all those who have followed in her footsteps are indebted to her bravery.

She was resistant to taking medications, something those with mental health conditions understand.  Her firsthand experience lends clout to her anguish and makes her words ring true with authenticity.  She has helped reduce the mental health stigma that pervades the medical community; a feat that few have dared to attempt.  In so doing, she has saved lives and given hope to those who have, at moments, lost faith:

Time will pass; these moods will pass; and eventually, I will be myself again. Kay Redfield Jamison

I see her as a towering figure of truthfulness and integrity.  We humans struggle to chart our own journeys in life but can’t do so without those role models who have inspired us to follow in their inspirational footsteps.  There are few in life who I admire more than her.  We would do well to remember all those who have cleared the way for us to survive and thrive.  In our own unquiet minds, we move in the direction of peace and contentment only because others have shined a light on our pathway forward.  Thank you, Kay.

Obsessed with Covid-19 news

I flipped open my iPad as I awoke this morning to get the latest update on what was happening in our corona-virus world.  It’s my go-to-upon-awakening task. My pattern has become to check in on my various devices no matter where I am, no matter the time of day and see what is transpiring in our newly pandemic world.  So, no question about it, I have a psychiatric disorder: I am obsessed with Covid-19 news!.  Notwithstanding, when I hear the latest update, I feel afraid.  I’m somehow always hoping to find some relief.  We have a saying in psychiatry that doing the same thing endless times, hoping for a different outcome is the definition of insanity.  So each day I’m acting like an addict who has lost his mind.  Why am I doing something that repeatedly scares me?  Let’s think about this for a bit.

This is an image of a covid-19 virus

Obsessed to witness scary things

Why do we stop to look at things that frighten us like accidents along the highway, scary movies or lions at the zoo?  One reason, oddly, is that witnessing these particularly scary and disturbing things makes us feel more safe.  How’s that?  During our distress, we are in the safety of our non-crashed car, sitting in our comfy movie seat or standing high on the perch above the lion that lurks far below.  We can look fear in the eye knowing that we are safe and sound.  We’re in control while we are witnessing something that could easily be beyond our control.  Nonetheless, though terrified, we watch and we watch. But that’s not the real reason we are compelled to be glued to our devices. Why are we? In case you’re wondering, it’s not because we are a nation of masochists or that we enjoy ghoulish macabre things.  

What’s behind Covid-19 news obsession?

Ask yourself this:  what do you feel when you watch the news about the pandemic?  Likely, terrified that this tiny virus has had the power to upend and snuff out our lives.  Besides fear, though, what other emotions do we experience when we watch Covid-19 news?  We feel empathy for those who are ill or who have died; compassion for those afflicted, blessed for all that we have in our lives; a desire to connect with our loved ones; appreciative of living; spared and lucky. And, we know that we must live our life to it’s fullest. So what do all these feelings add up to?  It’s simple: we feel our own humanness.

Drawn to our own humanity

Though fear is in the mix, we feel comforted and nourished as we connect with our best human self, the person we want to be.  If that isn’t intoxicating, I don’t know what is.  Doing so makes us feel human in many ways.  My iPad and TV screens are mirrors and I see a kind, decent, caring, empathic, grateful, blessed reflection looking back at me.  I like the person that I see.  When I remember that all this lies just beneath my layer of fear, it’s very comforting.  When I can touch those parts of myself, I no longer feel so alone and I no longer feel so afraid.  My humanness makes me feel safe. I’m experiencing my humanness rather than my virus fearfulness. So, for Covid-19 news obsession, don’t live in your superficial scary world…live in your deep human one.

Please tell me what you think…

Butterfly Effect

Edward Lorenz worked on mathematical models to predict weather systems, many years ago. He would use extremely exacting numbers and run his programs repeatedly, analyzing the results. One day, numbers were input that were rounded off in seemingly small inconsequential ways. He was startled to find that a very tiny change in initial conditions created huge differences in the experiments outcome. This is the butterfly effect. It means very minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a butterfly far, far away could influence a hurricane occurring half way around the world. Small acts can have big effects.

Picture of a blue butterfy flapping it's wings


Why did you hug your daughter yesterday? What was the reason you gave your college students a pop quiz earlier this week? Why did you smile at the barista making your coffee this morning? Because you wanted to show your child that you love them. You were trying to impart knowledge to young minds. You were appreciative that the barista was doing something for you. All true, but all missing the larger point.

Butterfly effect: Small acts today, big effects tomorrow

We act in these ways because of the effects these actions might have far in the future. The hope that our daughters will live lives knowing love. Our expectation that our students will do good deeds in life with the wisdom we impart. We know the barista will have a better day having seen our smile that morning. Here’s the thing: we do these acts even though the effects might not be apparent until far down the road. Here’s the bigger thing: we do these acts even though we will likely never see the positive outcomes that might arise from our good deeds. Our small acts today can have big effects on others tomorrow. The butterfly effect.

The world will be in a better place

I define faith as believing that the acts of goodness, kindness and decency done every day will ultimately lead to a greater good. We can’t see that the hug, the quiz or the smile will result in anything wondrous but we have faith that it will. Perhaps without realizing, we hope our actions will play some small part in leaving our world in a better place.

So flap your wings and rest assured that you will usher in the winds of a better tomorrow for us all.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know…