Have you lost your hope? Does a sense of hopelessness, menace and foreboding pervade your thinking? Do you fear the future?
Well, if you feel that way, you’re certainly not alone. Those feelings have become so widespread that economists, political scientists and futurists have begun to study them seriously and use them to actually predict the future of entire nations and regions.
Think about that for a minute. Do our feelings about the future become self-fulfilling prophecies? Pretty ironic, right? Actually, not so much, because it turns out that peoples’ feelings about the future do play a big part in determining their future. By most measures, research shows that those with a hopeful, optimistic view of the future tend to do better over the long term than those who see the future negatively, both individually and as groups.
The Baha’i teachings ask us to have confident hearts—to anticipate the future with assurance, courage and faith:
… the hearts of the people of faith are assured. If they are surrounded by a thousand enemies they stand firm on their ground. The greatest divine bounty is a confident heart. When the heart is confident, all the trials of the world will be as child’s play. Should they throw him into prison, should they cast him into a black well, should they heap upon him all manner of afflictions, still his heart is content, peaceful and assured. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 241.
So take a minute and think about it—how do you feel about the future? Do you have a confident heart—“content, peaceful and assured”—or do you feel unsure or even not very happy at all about coming events? In an overall sense, do you look forward to what’s coming, or dread it?
Lately, scientific polling has begun to try to measure confidence in the future among the world’s peoples. In the past, we’ve used rigid economic indicators like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), unemployment data and average household income to measure the overall progress of our countries—but those purely materialistic measures fail to gauge a vastly more important one: how people really feel about the future.
For example: in the place where you live, do people feel secure and safe, or do they feel threatened and desperate? Do they feel optimistic about the future, or deeply pessimistic? Do they have hope, or do things look pretty bleak?
A few months ago the Gallup Organization released its latest poll on expectations for the future. Called the Gallup Global Emotions Report, it unveils a representative sampling of the feelings and emotions of the world’s people. Gallup’s polling, of 149,000 people in 142 of the world’s countries, gauges relative levels of pessimism and optimism—in other words, it attempts to measure our hope for the future.
World leaders use these metrics as a way of determining how their citizens rate their own sense of optimism, which can and often does predict the entire future of a nation or a global region.
Gallup’s Global Emotions Report asks many questions, but primarily focuses on the prevalence of positive and negative emotions in each country. In 2016, the survey found, the index of negative emotions was the highest ever measured:
Gallup asked adults in 142 countries in 2016 if they had five different negative experiences on the day before the survey. More than one in three people said they experienced a lot of worry (36%) or stress (35%), and three in 10 experienced a lot of physical pain (30%). At least one in five experienced sadness (22%) or anger (20%). – Gallup 2017 Global Emotions Report.
Predictably, negative emotions ran highest in countries like Yemen, Iraq and the Central African Republic, where long-standing violent conflicts and deprivation of human rights have had a profound negative effect on levels of hope. But the survey also revealed that people everywhere have lower levels of overall optimism than previous surveys measured. Hope, it seems, is in short supply.
This finding reflects a deep pessimism about our expectations. Despite our world’s prosperity, development and technological advances, hope seems to be in dwindling supply.
Would you like to feel hopeful again? The Baha’i teachings, while they realistically describe the world’s numerous afflictions, also offer the world a new sense of hope:
We can well perceive how the whole human race is encompassed with great, with incalculable afflictions. We see it languishing on its bed of sickness, sore-tried and disillusioned. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 213.
The darkness of this gloomy night shall pass away. Again the Sun of Reality will dawn from the horizon of the hearts. Have patience—wait, but do not sit idle; work while you are waiting; smile while you are wearied with monotony; be firm while everything around you is being shaken; be joyous while the ugly face of despair grins at you; speak aloud while the malevolent forces of the nether world try to crush your mind; be valiant and courageous while men all around you are cringing with fear and cowardice. Do not yield to the overwhelming power of tyranny and despotism. Serve the cause of democracy and freedom. Continue your journey to the end. The bright day is coming. The nucleus of the new race is forming. The harbinger of the new ideals of international justice is appearing. The trees of hope will become verdant; the copper of scorn and derision will be transmuted into the gold of honour and praise; the arid desert of ignorance will be transformed into the luxuriant garden of knowledge, the threatening clouds shall be dispelled and the stars of faith and charity will again twinkle in the clear heaven of human consciousness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 141.