Be aware of the little ways you move forward, complete or overcome things each day. Like getting to the bottom of a sink of dishes, tidying your space, getting to and from work, or getting to the end of a stack of emails and messages.
Knowing a little more when you go to bed than you did when you woke up. Earning a day’s wages, making a new friend, being appreciated, a grateful smile or shared moment (not only on social media but especially in real life), an acknowledgement or a nod of respect from another.
Noticing your breath, that you are alive and well, knowing this is a precious gift in itself.
Then consider a longer time-frame: How have you moved forward over the past 12 to 18 months? What have you grown, built, learned? What problematic things have you dropped or overcome or even simply become more aware of and therefore can address?
In which ways have you positively impacted or affected someone’s life or them on yours? What’s changed or been added in your life that was not there before?
Including something that can be perceived as negligibly small and insignificant, which we tend to brush off as such, often saying to ourselves, “ag, that’s nothing special, anyone could have done that”.
Notice and take in some of the many ways that your material circumstances are better than they were a year ago (no matter if they have worsened in other ways).
Notice anything different or new, any shrubs that have grown, fences mended, new clothes acquired, more earning power, improved net worth or not being indebted. Notice your child that has gone into a higher grade or learnt a new skill or did something helpful to others.
Notice that there is fresh water coming out of your tap and that there is currently no threat of drought.
See how things have improved in your relationships. With whom do you feel friendlier or closer or more trusting today than a year ago? And what’s gotten better in a different sense: stepping back from people who have not treated you kindly or have taken advantage of you before?
Recognise the sincere intentions, good efforts, and growing abilities in the children you raise or teach, and in the people with whom you live and work.
Even their oddities, idiosyncrasies and differences, these too can be endearing.
Consider our nurturing and motherly planet that never stops providing us with sustenance, support and healthy nutrition.
Given your values, what’s gotten better over the past 20, 50, 100 or even 10 000 years? Sure, we face unprecedented challenges. But all the major problems our ancestors had to solve were by definition unprecedented when they first appeared.
Would you rather deal with our local and global issues today… or – looking farther and farther back in time – with Dickensian levels of poverty and misery throughout the 19th century; with millennia of feudal lords, widespread slavery or the oppressive Apartheid system in South Africa not so long ago; commonplace abuse of women and children that was perceived as completely normal; or with pervasive hunger and pain and violence in hunter-gatherer bands in which, as Thomas Hobbes put it, life was usually “nasty, brutish, and short”?
The widespread meme – “in these dark times” – however it gets expressed, is ignorant, defeatist, and often used to further an agenda. Every epoch in human history has been dark in some regards – and bright in many others. In a hundred ways, daily life is better for the average person worldwide than it’s ever been.
Recognising progress does not mean overlooking suffering and sorrow, misery and injustice. In fact, understanding the ways in which some things are getting better helps bring encouragement and insight to the big pile of things that remain to be done, undertaken by all of us, in every small imaginable way, each positive attitude and helping hand does make a difference.
Yes, we’ve got our work cut out for us. But to keep going, we need to feel we’re making headway.
Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at email@example.com or send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.