How Are You Special?

On the PBS show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, host Fred Rogers regularly looked into the camera and spoke directly to the viewer. “You are special,” he would affirm.

This was a powerful message to the audience of children, who were most likely not used to hearing such a thing from an adult, particularly one on television.

The underlying idea, that each individual is special and important, is also useful for adults. Too often, it is easy to be a cog in a machine at work, or overwhelmed as a spouse or as a parent at home. Sometimes, we need a simple reminder of our own specialness.

Give it some thought. What can you do better than anything else? What sets you apart from those around you? In what ways are you important? How are you special?

Related questions: Why do we care what strangers think of us? Why do we feel the need to belong? What makes you you? How can we build confidence? Why is love important?

Is It A Cruel World?

News today can be very depressing. Every day, we see stories of mass shootings, environmental devastation, government corruption, war and bloodshed, and global pandemics.

Is this the natural state of human affairs?

On the one hand, things seem to be constantly improving. Our knowledge is cumulative, and today we know more about how the universe works than ever before. And with that knowledge, we are able to manipulate the world around us with ever-increasing ability and refinement.

On the other, we keep repeating mistakes of the past. We continue to be ruled by our coarser natures of suspicion, intolerance, and greed. Atrocities happen at home and abroad. History is filled with shameful events in all times and locations, and today is no exception.

The hope would be that our society is moving toward a better world. One where our lives are longer, happier, healthier, and more productive.

However, that may be only a dream and not reality. The more complicated our lives become, the more stress we feel. We don’t sleep enough. We tend to eat unhealthy food and to be overweight. We work long hours. We don’t get enough exercise. We sit in traffic. We use drugs to start our day, and again to end it. We pollute our air and our water. We make products that have a one time, limited use but that remain in our environment for centuries.

Is the chaos of our current society a stepping stone to a brighter future? Or is it our fate to live a life of struggle and uncertainty? Will our descendants inherit a world that is better than our current one, or one that is just as bad or maybe worse? And do we have the power to choose one option or the other?

Is it a cruel world?

Related questions: Why do we put up with unhappiness? How have we changed? What are you optimistic about? Are we too busy?

How Can We Appreciate Life More?

After last week’s question addressed death, this week we want to ask about the reverse: how to get the most out of our lives. A key part of being happy is to appreciate the pleasures and the joys of life.

In one respect, this should be easy, since there is so much of which to be appreciative. We live in a golden age, with greater knowledge about ourselves, about the universe, and about the world than we have ever had, as well as having increased ease of access to that information. In addition, we can travel just about anywhere in the world we might want to go, and food and goods from anywhere in the world can be delivered to our doorstep.

While money is important to be able to access these and other benefits of our society and income inequality continues to increase, it’s also true that more people across the world have been lifted out of poverty than at any time in human history.

On the other hand, it’s hard to appreciate what we have when we see all that we don’t. It is human nature to be constantly trying to improve our circumstance in the world, and that means identifying life’s deficiencies and striving to overcome them.

On top of that, it seems like we are surrounded with negativity. The ever-increasingly interconnected world means problems from other places take on greater significance at home. If news coverage is always focused on the problems of the country or the world, from natural disasters to war and political unrest, it can be very difficult to be optimistic about your life.

And yet, it is important for our own mental health, as individuals as well as collectively as a society, that we appreciate what we have. How can we do that, without losing sight of those less fortunate? How can we appreciate what we have without feeling guilty when there are people who don’t have what we have? How can we overcome the negative environment that surrounds us?

How can we appreciate life more? How can we focus on what we have and not on what we don’t?

Related questions: Is happiness the most important purpose in life?What is the purpose of money?How can we maintain wonder?What does it mean to be thankful?What was the best time in your life?