Room for HOPE.
Hope implies the possibility of a better future and while it may show up when things are at their worst, it can keep us going during those challenging times. Even more importantly, it can help motivate us to make things better.
Hopefulness may feel a little challenging right now, but according to the latest data from Ipsos, a global average of 65% of respondents say they feel optimistic that 2023 will be better than 2022. Of course, where you live is a better indicator. The most hopeful group live in Brazil, with 85% feeling optimistic, while residents of Japan came in at only 36% feeling the new year will be better than the last. 64% of US residents are feeling hopeful, while the Brits landed at 53%.
Why does it matter? Because having hope can greatly affect our well-being. The positive impacts of hope include improved mental well-being, benefits to our physical bodies, reduced stress levels which boosts the immune system, increased self-worth, self-belief and confidence, encouragement to take positive action, and reduced sadness and anxiety. Feeling hopeful improves our general quality of life.
So amidst all of the bad-news headlines, including the economy, the energy crisis, the impact of the Ukraine war, the horrific weather patterns we’re experiencing, and ongoing Covid challenges, is there room for hope? I think if we look at some of the good news that mostly went unnoticed from this year, there are definitely signs of hopefulness for the future.
Globally, it is looking like a tough year economically ahead due to high inflation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and what feels like the never-ending impact of Covid, especially in China. But economists feel that unless there is a serious outbreak of a new variant, the economic impact of the virus is on its way to settling down. Experts also generally agree that the economic impact of the war in Ukraine probably peaked for the rest of us last summer, so we can hope that it continues to decline or that the war comes to an end.
Inflation’s going to be around for a while, but there are areas for hope. Parts of Europe are probably already in recession due to their energy crisis but could be mild if the war in Ukraine comes to an end soon. And while economists generally agree that the U.S. is heading for a recession, it is estimated to be mild, not catastrophic, and the upside is, a recession will actually suppress rampant price increases.
The labor market is strong, which ironically is helping fuel inflation. But while headlines highlight layoffs, especially in the tech market, in the U.S. in 2022, around 250,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits for the first time every week, but 6.5 million people were hired each month, dwarfing the number of layoffs announced. That’s allowing a lot of freedom to people to change jobs or start new businesses or side hustles.
While we need to get back to 2-3% inflation to return to normal, it is estimated that by mid-year, the inflation rate will be down to 4-5%, so not where we need to be yet, but a hopeful sign that we’re moving in the right direction. We’ve probably all felt the sting of inflation, but gas prices dropped 37% since last summer and perhaps the economic outlook isn’t as gloomy as some of us felt.
There’s a lot of room for hope when it comes to our health. Preliminary studies indicate that we’re getting closer to cancer vaccines for individuals at a high risk of cancer and cures for those who already have it. Moderna announced that a skin cancer vaccine performed well in mid-stage trials and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center announced a 100% remission rate for a specific form of rectal cancer. After decades of little progress, more people than ever are surviving cancer, which is the 2nd leading cause of death. This is a promising sign of finally moving to overcome a disease that kills about 10 million people a year.
There is amazing hope for not only the 12.7 million people currently waiting for corneal transplants, but millions more in the future who suffer from blindness due to keratoconus. Researchers in Sweden bio-engineered a new corneal implant made from pig skin that early studies show restored eyesight of twenty blind people after two years, even up to 20/20 vision. Pig skin is easily accessible as a byproduct of the food industry and can be stored for up to two years, so this procedure could be widely available and affordable for anyone in the world, not just the wealthiest or best insured. Randomized trials are continuing and if all of that isn’t hopeful enough, the researchers are not going to patent the procedure, but make it available for free to all surgeons to encourage them to use it and experiment with human donor tissue in the same procedure.
Mackenzie Scott donated $15,000,000 for eyeglasses in developing countries, another hopeful sign of making relief available to those who can’t currently afford it. Hearing aids were made available over the counter, opening access to millions with mild to moderate hearing loss with a more affordable option than prescription hearing aids. This could be even more significant considering recent studies indicating that hearing loss is one of the top risk factors for dementia. A 14-year-old invented headphones that can detect and even treat ear infections, providing a low-cost effective treatment for the millions of mid-ear infections that occur every day. I’m sure parents would be thrilled if their children could simply listen to music to cure the infection instead of the current methods available.
Billionaire Mark Cuban’s Cost Plus Drug Company launched an online pharmacy as part of an ongoing effort to provide consumers with low drug prices. The pharmacy claims to offer significant savings, with several prescription drugs reportedly at more than half the cost of the next most affordable option and some substantially less, including a leukemia treatment that has a retail price of $9,657 a month, which reportedly costs just $47 per month through the online pharmacy. The pharmacy’s initial inventory launch consists of 100 generic drugs, which is very hopeful for people who can’t currently afford beneficial medications.
There’s hope on the mental health front, too. First, mental health is finally more widely accepted as a problem we need to focus on and innovation is blooming. Technology is transforming mental health support and mobile mental health support can be very simple but effective. For example, anyone with the ability to send a text message can contact a crisis center now. New technology is being packaged into sophisticated apps for smartphones or tablets. Such apps might use the device’s built-in sensors to collect information on a user’s typical behavior patterns. If the app detects a change in behavior, it may provide a signal that help is needed before a crisis occurs.
Excitement about the huge range of opportunities has led to a burst of app development. There are thousands of mental health apps available in Apple and Android app stores, and the number is growing every year. Creative research and engineering teams are combining their skills to address a wide range of mental health concerns, including self-management apps, apps for improving thinking skills, skill-training apps, illness management and supported care apps, passive symptom tracking apps, and of course, mindfulness and meditation apps.
More than 2,500 meditation apps have launched since 2015 and show no sign of slowing. The number of meditating users of apps has risen by 3 times since 2012. While adults aged 45-64 meditate the most, 53% of senior citizens meditate at least once a week now. The number of US adults practicing meditation has tripled in the past ten years while the number of children meditating has surged by 800% during the same period. All hopeful signs that we’re recognizing the power of minding our minds.
Doctors in Canada can now prescribe time in national parks for patients. Studies show the benefits of spending a few hours a week in nature include longer life expectancy, increased energy, reduced stress, improved mood, pain reduction and improved heart health. A pass to the parks costs $57 a year, but physicians can now prescribe their patients passes to the parks to help manage physical and mental health. Hopefully this is a trend that will spread to other countries.
Christmas weekend highlighted for me more than any other factor this year, the impact of climate change on our weather. I couldn’t wear my ugly sweater to this year’s Christmas party because it was 84 degrees. I’m not complaining about being warm by any means, but it was strange that everyone was perspiring in short sleeves as we opened presents and ate and drank merry concoctions. Meanwhile, heavy snow, high winds and brutal cold hit a large portion of the U.S. and some major cities in the Southeast, Midwest and East coast recorded their coldest Christmas in decades. Last year, climate events resulted in 342 deaths and inflicted more than $152 billion in damages across this country alone. Definitely not great news, but what gives me hope is that we finally seem to be getting it, that we need to address climate change before it’s too late.
Congress enacted legislation to deliver the largest investment in climate action in U.S. history that includes investments in low-carbon technologies, environmental justice initiatives for disadvantaged communities and tax credits to promote electric vehicle sales. It also funds clean energy technologies, emission-cutting infrastructure such as residential rooftop solar panels, climate-smart agricultural practices and much, much more.
The United Nations adopted a resolution to end plastic pollution, Canada banned most single-use plastics, joining 20 other countries with various bans and taxes on plastic, and Amazon is phasing out plastic shipping envelopes. Colgate developed a completely recyclable toothpaste tube and gave away the formula for free so others can follow suit. What I find most hopeful about all of this is that we’re starting to work together, recognizing that we’re all in the same boat and sharing responsibility, the only way we can effectively respond to these challenges.
We’re also a little closer to a new source of clean energy. After a major breakthrough in nuclear fusion, investors are pouring money into companies that want to harness this form of energy. Fusion, if it can be implemented on a large scale, would offer a nearly limitless pollution-free energy source. But scientists had never created a fusion reaction that produced more energy than it consumed. They finally reached that milestone in 2022 and while it could still be decades before fusion becomes a practical power source, the accomplishment is a hopeful sign that we can actually achieve it.
I just touched on our inter-connectedness in last week’s podcast on the greater good, but one area where we haven’t done very well is with nature. We sometimes cut off our nose to spite our face, so to speak, thinking we can ignore or control nature. I did this myself because of a cat problem. For years, feral cats have become my arch nemesis. My lawn furniture was covered with cat hair every morning, which I had to use a lint-roller to remove from all of the cushions, before I scooped all of the cat excrement from my yard. It was more than irritating as many of the cats looked pretty ragged and I was uncomfortable about potential diseases.
I set up an outdoor camera and was shocked at the cat traffic through my yard overnight, in addition to racoons and possum. I tried every option I could find online, from bright lights to motion sensor water guns, to sticky substances, to cayenne pepper covering everything and more, but nothing worked. I didn’t want to hurt the cats – just keep them from ruining my yard. I finally found plastic spikes that don’t harm the animals but are uncomfortable enough to be a deterrent. That finally did the trick. I went from ten to fifteen cats using my yard as their top night spot to just one or two who seemed impervious to the deterrent. Problem solved.
Until the increase in outdoor rats became visible. As in any large city, Los Angeles has a large rat population, made worse by the fact that they love to live in palm trees. I have several, so was not delusional enough to think I didn’t have rats, but I never saw them and there’s been no evidence of any sort of an invasion indoors, so I chose to ignore the rustling in the palm trees at night. But once I eliminated the cat brigade from my yard, the rats felt freer to come on down from their perches. I started catching glimpses of tails as they scurry into the cinder block walls and brief glimpses of them zipping across the top of my wall. So, problem not really solved, just changed. Now I keep the plastic spikes on the furniture, but I removed them from the walls. I learned my lesson. Tinker with nature at your own peril. Messing with the balance of nature has consequences.
Animal extinction is a natural process of evolution, but the human species has led to significant increases in extinction rates. This matters because we share ecosystems with other living creatures and our quality of life and even our survival is linked to them. Extinction and nature loss makes people sicker, decreases water and air quality, hurts our ability to grow food, deepens the impact of extreme weather events, and weakens our ability to combat climate change. It’s been pretty much all bad news for the past few decades, as the rate of extinction is occurring 1,000 to 10,000 times faster because of human activity. The current main causes of extinction are the loss of habitat, over-hunting and fishing, invasive species, climate change and nitrogen pollution.
However, hope is emerging. Animals near extinction or already believed to be extinct are rebounding or resurfacing, including during the last year a reversal in existence or numbers in the Osprey, black-naped pheasant-pigeons, grey wolves, Eurasian beavers, grey seals, European and American bison, Sumatran rhinos, fin whales, greenback cutthroat trout, blue iguanas, red kites, northern pool frogs, Echo parakeets, and Spix’s macaws. This reversal indicates that enough people are taking action to clean up or get out of the way of nature and that gives me hope for our future.
Finally, after decades of imbalanced lifestyles, the proverbial all work and no play syndrome, we seem to be working out how to work healthier. We’re definitely still in transition, but there are signs that many of us are getting the hang of varied work options and figuring out how to improve our home lives and relationships as well. Our pandemic-induced workstyles are becoming commonplace. Remote and hybrid work environments are well-established at many companies and showing signs of offering permanent, more flexible options.
An experiment with a 4-day work week is gaining traction as well. Of the 33 companies that piloted a four-day work-week for six months as part of a large-scale study this year, none said they would return to a standard schedule. The firms reported higher revenue and employee productivity and new companies will join the study in 2023. Could a 4-day work week become the standard? That’s something to hope for.
We always have a choice in what we focus on. Headlines will always report on the negative news because it increases their bottom line, but we can find the good news out there if we put in just a little effort. We’re amazing creatures and can do incredible things when we put our minds to it.
Michelle Obama said, “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once, but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.”
I hope you’ll join me in the new year, holding on to hope and spreading it as far as possible. Hope matters for our well-being and for the greater good. I hope you have a mindful new year.