I graduated with a degree in psychology from Dartmouth College in 1997. I remember clearly the phone conversation with my parents a couple of years prior when I told them of my chosen major. My dad struggled to find enthusiasm as he finally managed to say “Psychology’s not a very practical major. Don’t you think you should study something else?”
Two days after graduation, I moved to rural Nebraska where I used my psychology degree to learn to care for farm animals and coach young athletes. Over the almost 25 years that have passed since that phone conversation, I have routinely pondered why the science of the brain and the emotions that play critical roles in our lives fall into the “not practical” category of focus.
Mental health touches all of us. The mass shootings that all too often ravage our country were not even on my radar screen in the mid-90’s when I formally studied psychology; but the denial and feeling of shame that go along with smaller daily emotional and mental challenges did permeate our mainstream American culture. Still today, we harbor embarrassment toward and quietly shun people who suffer from mental turmoil instead of reaching out in love and support. We chose to judge others, blame inanimate objects, and participate in rabid political debates after tragedy strikes rather than acknowledge the real problem and preemptively come together to focus on a cure.
Hope is a muscle.
When it is strengthened daily by love and faith, hope wards off the self-doubt, loneliness and fear that challenge and erode our mental health. The battle is real. No one holds immunity from it. Hope provides the inspiration that allows each of us to find value in life. It motivates us to reach out to others in love and support, instead of focusing inward with judgement and disdain.
A grass-roots effort is needed to create the cure. It starts with you and me – how we view ourselves — how we relate to others, as well as what we teach our children.
- Do we focus on love of others and honoring the gift of life?
- Do we respect individual differences while also working to find common ground so that we can move forward together as a team?
- Do we accept that mental and emotional struggles are part of life and focus on creating the tools needed to find happiness amidst the challenge?
- Do we have honest discussions with our children about faith that inspire them to love themselves while also recognizing that “we” is stronger than “I”?
We all have worth.
We are all children of God.
I believe that we begin to effectively improve the mental health of our country one person at a time – one relationship at a time – one loving action at a time. We waste precious lives when we judge instead of love. Repetitious acts of kindness build the muscle of hope. They not only help others, but they help us. We feel self-worth rather than self-doubt, focus on community instead of loneliness, and replace fear with faith as we look toward the future.
I spend a lot of time coaching and working with youth on the athletic field. While it may appear that my primary job is to build physical muscle and athletic prowess; I know that what I truly need to do is teach my athletes to believe in themselves – to truly believe that each one of them matters. Not just on the day of competition, but in the journey of life.
You see, hope is a muscle. When it is strong, it refills our cup and provides a beacon of light as we travel the journey. It keeps us honed in on the joy of giving. It tells us that we have something worth sharing and inspires us to reach out in empathy toward others. When we all work to build the muscle of hope, we rediscover the value of life. We are at peace and whole within ourselves through our faith in God which allows us to show love and compassion to others.
It isn’t complicated; but it requires dedication and tenacity both at the individual and community level.
Are you ready to build the habit of love and fuel it with faith in order to find hope for the future?