Midwest Voices

Hampton Stevens: Beyond the headlines of doom, happiness is in small joys of life

pecial to The Star

Protesters demonstrate in St. Louis’ City Hall during an event coordinated by Ferguson October. The group is demanding the arrest of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed unarmed teen Michael Brown in August. They are also calling for reform to police practices.
Protesters demonstrate in St. Louis’ City Hall during an event coordinated by Ferguson October. The group is demanding the arrest of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed unarmed teen Michael Brown in August. They are also calling for reform to police practices. MCT

If you are reading this, it means you follow the news. And following the news these days can be difficult. We live in troubling times.

The nation’s economy, though in recovery, still feels anemic. Wealth disparity is growing. The system seems increasingly rigged to favor the wealthy, and the American dream feels imperiled.

There are more dire threats as well. Humankind’s effect on the environment seems evermore worrisome. There are growing tensions between local police and the communities they serve. After spending uncountable blood and treasure in the Middle East, a savage new threat has arisen in Syria and Iraq. The Ebola virus rages in Africa and has even found its way to United States.

With one horror after another, it’s easy to lose hope. The tone of much of today’s mass media certainly doesn’t help. The loudest voices get attention.

Step back. Get some perspective. Take heart. It is possible to consume the news without being consumed by it.

First, at least here in Kansas City, things are going well. The city is experiencing a renaissance. We can still find joy in the fact that we live here at a special time in the city’s history. For the majority of us, even the greatest catastrophes will be only an intellectual exercise. Yes, Ebola and the Islamic State are scary.

But most of us won’t die from terrorist attacks or wildly infectious diseases. For most of us, life is not defined by the great global events but by the small and personal ones. The meaningful parts of our lives tend to be the private struggles — like the quest for loving relationships or the search for a fulfilling career.

Moreover, and this is crucial, the true joys of life aren’t even found in those good jobs or satisfying relationships. The real stuff of life is found in the uncountable small moments that come in between the very few big ones. It is a cliché, but nevertheless true that genuine happiness is found in small things; like the appreciation of sunshine on autumn leaves, the laughter of a child, or the pleasures of a tasty meal.

Yes, by all means, read newspapers and magazines. Watch the news. Involve yourself in the wider world. Be political. Vote. Advocate. Action is empowering.

But also keep things in perspective. Most of all, stay positive. Hope is its own reward. And optimism is not only a good idea for individual mental health, it’s a good strategy for making things materially better.

Staying hopeful and joyful will help others do the same — some of whom will be energized to change.

New threats are scary to be sure. But they also create new possibilities. To paraphrase John Lennon, problems are only solutions waiting to be found.

For instance, learning to fight Ebola may bring medical advances that prevent the spread of other, even deadlier diseases. News of police misconduct, while chilling, is bringing new scrutiny to law enforcement agencies, making those issues more likely to be addressed. Our economy and environment may be in bad shape, but that could spur us to finally find new, cleaner sources of power.

A realistic assessment of threats may not be fashionable in this hyperbolic age, but staying calm and positive is a smart, healthy way to live. Whatever the issues, our city, nation and species will adapt.

Humankind will survive. And, no matter what disasters may come, each of us can learn to better appreciate the small things in life and take joy wherever we can find it. In the end, no matter what the news brings, the little things are really all we have.

Hampton Stevens of Kansas City is a national and regional freelance writer. To reach him, send email to oped@kcstar.com.

  Comments