How I Try To Find Hope In The Midst Of Depressing Thoughts
By David Metcalfe
March 12, 2019
No One Has Ever Seen The Same Movie
The discipline of psychology is predicated on the idea that the human mind is at least somewhat independent of the circumstances around it. I like to use the example of a movie theatre to illustrate how this works.
Let’s say 100 people sit and watch “Avengers” in a theatre. All of them see, objectively, the exact same movie, and yet, they will have completely different ideas about it. On rating it out of 5 stars, there will likely be some 1 star ratings, some 5 star ratings, and each number in between. If you ask them each what the best scene was and what the worst scene was, they will give you a variety of answers.
So, you might say, “movies are entirely subjective to the individual!”, and you would be wrong for saying that. Imagine if, instead of “Avengers”, the movie was a series of clips of nails scratching on chalk boards for 2 hours. Well, you can assume that there would be quite a few 1 star ratings. There is something objectively bad about a movie like that. While movies are somewhat subjective, there is clearly an objective component to it. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars on making “Avengers”, got big name actors, made a story line they thought would appeal to most people based on the comics and other movies that were well received, and a host of other, at least somewhat objective, components.
The same can be said of the circumstances we come across in our lives. Having a stable, high paying job, for example, is kind of like watching the “Avengers”. Most people will like it fairly well, and it seems like there must be some objectively good component to it. However, there will be some people who don’t care for it, or even hate it. The same can be said of having a family, a belief in religion, a large number of friends, etc.
Suffering the death of a loved one, a romantic break up, getting fired from a job, etc., are kind of like a 2 hour movie of nails scratching on a chalk board. There’s something about it that objectively sucks. But, at the same time, people are going to react to it very differently. Some people who see the 2 hour nails on chalk board movie will say, “that sucked” and then go about their day as if nothing happened. Other people will be so disturbed by it, they’ll be having nightmares for a week. Other people might suffer mental breakdowns during or after the movie.
All this to say: our circumstances are outside of us, and have some objectivity to whether they are good or bad, but how we approach and react to them is primarily subjective (up to us).
These are thoughts I’ve had in my life that are objectively horrible, and I’ve learned to accept reality as it is (as best I can), but find ways to deal with them subjectively. Perhaps you or someone you know shares these types of thoughts, and perhaps my experience could help give you some insight into dealing with them.
Some Of My Most Common Depressing Thoughts
“I’ll never be able to experience romantic love”
The objective circumstance: After realizing that very few girls were willing to go on dates with me, and of those girls, none ever fell in love with me, I became very concerned. My friends were all getting in serious relationships or married, and I wasn’t even close. I knew romantic love was a very good thing, because not only was it clearly something that everyone pursued very intently and filled every pop song and blockbuster movie, but also because I had felt it at times.
After I had gone on more than a few dates with a girl and gotten along with her very well, I would fall in love with her in a small way. It felt very good: I was so much happier and more fulfilled; it inspired me. Love is amazing. But soon enough, I would ask her to go out for our usual weekend dinner and she would say, “David, I can’t go out with you anymore. You’re a great guy but I just don’t think it’s going to work.”, and I would be crushed. And even in the Mormon church, where there are way more single girls than single guys, and it’s literally church doctrine to go on dates and eventually get married, the girls still have no interest in dating me. So, I get frustrated and I go to Tinder and find that I am not interested in having a long term relationship with the girls on there. In other words: the evidence is so one sided in the fact that no girl has ever loved me my entire life, that it’s a very real possibility that it will never happen.
The subjective understanding: It wrecked me for quite some time, and I had declared that I would just be single for the rest of my life, so as to avoid getting my hopes up. When I joined the Mormon church, I had a renewed sense of optimism that it might work. But, of course, it didn’t, and I was forced to confront the fact that even in the most conducive of circumstances possible, young women simply are not attracted to me and have no interest in ever being more than a friend.
I had to ask myself a very serious and difficult question: if I knew with absolute certainty that I would never get to experience romantic love, would my life still be worth living?
Well, I figured, if I knew that romantic love wasn’t going to happen, I would no longer have that as a goal to be won or lost. I would have to find something else to live for; friendships, family, career, philosophy, etc. I’m keeping this brief, so I won’t go into it, but I ended up answering, “yes, it would”.
But the thing is, I’m not certain. Maybe I just haven’t met the right lady, or maybe I’m more socially awkward than I think, or too poor, or whatever. So, if my life is worth living even without it, there’s no reason for it to cause me significant despair. I still meet girls and ask them out from time to time, and I realize that they will most likely say “no”, and not even give me a chance to go out one time before they decide, and that even if they do say “yes”, it is very unlikely that it will be a match. I have no certainty in finding or not finding romantic love, and that leaves room for hope. And when that hope does not get realized in specific instances, it does not die, because the hope was not directed towards one specific girl, but as a general concept of what may come tomorrow, or next year, or in 20 years. There’s no use fighting the circumstances beyond our control, but there is use in finding optimism within them.
“I’m not a real journalist, I suck at writing, and no one believes in me.”
The objective circumstance: After submitting to “The Huffington Post”, “The Atlantic”, and “Maclean’s” more than ten times, with my best quality work, and getting rejected every single time, it makes me quite depressed. Furthermore, my friends and family often say, “David, you should go back to university” or “you should pursue this career instead” and all I hear is “you’re not successful at writing and you never will be and here’s a way that you can just quit now.”
My blog doesn’t even have that many readers anymore. It used to get 300 or 400 views each week; now I’m happy if it gets 100. But that’s the thing: I’m not happy. And even if it were 300 or 400, I honestly don’t give a shit. I see the kinds of articles that are getting published in magazines with one million readers, and they aren’t that good. They don’t have proper research, they have objectively wrong views or misrepresented perspectives, the wording is way too simplistic for the complexity of the concept being discussed, the list goes on… So why do I not get published, even for articles that are the same or better quality? I believe that I deserve to be a major voice in political and social discourse. I believe that I can help to educate the world by doing quality research and sharing it in an interesting way.
The subjective understanding: But that’s just it: I believe. And that’s when I realize: I’m the only one who believes in myself. The reason I even get readers on my blog is because of my insane articles where I rage about my personal life, and it’s basically just a reality TV show called, “What’s crazy Dave going to say next?” No one thinks I have an intelligent or interesting perspective. They’re not coming here to learn. They’re coming here like they do when they read “Top 10 Dirty Details About Angelina Jolie: You Won’t Believe Number 5!”
But then I think: “wait a second, David. 100 readers per week is actually awesome in its own right. And what did you expect? To have a platform of a million people at age 23? You wouldn’t even want that right now. You’re still in practice mode, using this as a testing phase for how to write well in the future, when you do have a big platform.”
And then I start to believe in myself so much that I don’t need to justify what I do anymore. My parents say, “Why don’t you get a real job?” and I consider saying, “Because I live on my own, make enough money to pay all my expenses, and I still get to do what I enjoy 95% of the time. You guys have been in debt and working tons of hours at jobs you didn’t even like for most of your lives; who’s really doing better?” But then I think better of it, because I’m confident and don’t need to justify anything to anybody, so I say, “Well, maybe I will soon, but I’ve got things in the works, and I hope they work out.”
Once again, there’s no certainty either way. I might be successful and I might not be. And wherever there’s uncertainty, there’s room for hope.
“Everyone in the world is boring, stupid, and immoral.”
The objective circumstance: When I left to Colorado for 6 months, my life changed dramatically. I had tons of crazy experiences and was, in many ways, a different person when I came back. However, literally everyone else was the exact same. They hadn’t grown or developed at all. My dad still complained about the same things that he had been 6 months ago. My friends were all working the same jobs, living in the same place, watching the same sports teams each evening. I realized something: people are really, really boring.
Most people are so brain dead, you can learn what they think about everything in 5 minutes of chatting. I wonder, “how on earth do these people have any conversations or relationships with anyone?” What I realize from overhearing the simpletons talk to one another, is that they simply talk about mundane things in insane detail. I recently, for example, heard a group of four guys at a sports bar each telling each other what time they woke up that morning…for about 10 minutes.
Then, I look at my Facebook newsfeed, and I see some of the stupidest political ideas I’ve ever seen, and I think, “how did this person pass high school? How do they have a right to vote? Who is responsible for filling their small minds with these horrible ideas?” And then, inevitably, I get into my daily Facebook comments debate (which, usually, is something I enjoy, although the stupidity of some of the things I hear does weigh on me a bit).
And then I notice that most of the problems in the world are actually not as much a matter of stupidity as they are of immorality. People know that there are starving children in the world, but buying a larger house just feels like a better purchase. People know that scientists are legitimate and there is not some conspiracy about climate change, but they say it anyway because they don’t want to accept it and instead keep pumping their oil and pollution for a quick paycheque. And people are so selfish, so unfriendly, so fixated on money and material gain.
The subjective understanding: Just because someone seems “boring” to me does not really make it so, and, in fact, I may seem “boring” to many people. And, perhaps stagnation is actually a sign of happiness: they’ve created and found a life they enjoy for themselves. They like their house, their job, their community, their family- so why change something that’s going well?
I can’t expect people to be really intelligent about everything. I happen to naturally have a 130+ IQ and access to tons of university education, but that is not the case for everyone. In addition, there are issues that even simpletons know quite a bit more than me about. When those four guys stopped talking about when they woke up, they started talking about their trucks. I had no idea what the 5 liter diesel injector whatever-the-heck thing was that the guy mentioned. So really, I think we all have different interests and abilities and that is ok. The people who only have 5 minutes worth of ideas will not become my best friends, and that’s ok. But I don’t need to employ them in the development of my misanthropy.
Some people act immorally, sure, but they themselves generally mean well. It is quite a rarity that someone is a true sadist, and in that case, it is likely the result of a mental illness or severe trauma during their youth. Even Adolf Hitler thought he was helping the world become a better place. I think to cure the world of evil, while not ourselves losing all humanity in the process, we should not hate the person, but seek to remove the evil that grips them. Instead of hating Nazi people, we should hate and seek to remove Nazism.
That is to say, I think that people are morally good, if you allow them to be, and that most of the evils that take control over mankind are exterior to the individual. Evil is produced in false ideologies that turn what initially seemed good into something quite obviously bad, and abandonment from the ideology, however evil it becomes, ends up being quite difficult, due to authority and social forces involved.
You’ll notice that my “objective circumstance” started getting quite blended with my “subjective understanding” as the article went on. I like to think of that as a comment on the nature of perceived objectivity, or, in other words, how we trick ourselves into thinking we always know reality as it truly is. But actually, all of it is a combination of objective and subjective reality. Going back to the movie example: there is a combination of objectivity and subjectivity in movies, and it’s quite hard to make certain judgements on either account, as to whether a movie is good or bad.
I planned on this blog post covering more grandiose philosophical problems like, “there’s no meaning in life” or whatever, and then somehow I just did it about my personal life. But hey, there will be like 100 people max who will read this, so what do I care? Was I expecting to make money from this? Was this ever going to make it into some big, fancy journal? No, no, and probably, no.
Anyway, what I want to end with is something that I mentioned and just want to expound on briefly. We are not certain of our future. It is unwritten. We can plan for things, and those plans will never happen the exact way we thought they would. Maybe I plan to get married before I’m 25, and it doesn’t happen, but then when I’m 26 I meet the love of my life. Maybe I plan to be a writer for a big time magazine like Maclean’s, but I end up at a local newspaper and end up loving it. Maybe I think everyone I meet is going to suck, and then I get out and meet amazing friends who are passionate, inspiring, and good natured.
You might say, “But David, why do you assume that your circumstances are going to still go well, even when they don’t go according to plan?”
It’s because we don’t choose everything that happens, but we do choose what we hope to happen. We can live into those hopes. I don’t think we can really understand hope without the things it is sandwiched between: faith and love. Faith is living out our hopes in confidence that good things will happen, and having the strength and resolve to be resilient and persevering when they don’t. Love is the ultimate purpose and meaning: it is stable, consistent, and available to everyone. When we hope for expressing love to others as a concept, it is the one absolutely certain thing. Whenever we interact with someone, we can show kindness, forgiveness, compassion. We can engage in relationships, whether family, friends, romantic, professional, etc., that serve as forums to express that love.
So, what I might finish with is that hope can only be lived out through faith, and its only certainty is the ability to show and receive love with others. What has helped me overcome my tendency to pessimism is to consider what I hope for, to strive for it faithfully every day, and to experience love along the way.