I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. – E. B. White
If you’re a caring person who is concerned about the current state of affairs, perhaps you feel inclined toward saving the world — or at least improving our current condition. At the same time, you might be acutely aware of how quickly time passes and want to enjoy your life, while you have the good health and resources to do so. You may want to relish the beauty of nature and our planet before it deteriorates further, as well as enjoy time with your loved ones and friends.
Reading the news these days can be decidedly disturbing, with bleak reports almost daily about climate change, environmental destructive, and corrupt politics. Some people respond to unnerving news by trying to ignore it, fearful that if they’re exposed too much, they might sink into despair and hopelessness. It can certainly be demoralizing to hear about one alarming story after another.
Other people refuse to view themselves as powerless victims. They experience troubling news as a call to action, perhaps attending demonstrations, signing petitions, or volunteering in a way to help change things. A fortunate few find a meaningful way to make a living contributing to our troubled world.
Trying to find a balance between our desire to save our world and our inclination to savor it can be a daunting task. I wish I could offer a simple answer, but here are some thoughts to consider.
Living a Meaningful Life
Many years ago, Victor Frankl developed a form of psychotherapy he called “Logotherapy,” which is based upon his experience surviving a concentration camp. He found that what helped him and others to survive was to find a sense of meaning amidst suffering. He believed that the main drive in life was not for pleasure, as Freud believed, or power, as Adler maintained, but instead meaning. After the war, Frankl wrote the classic book,Man’s Search for Meaning, which encourages us to move toward greater mental and emotional well-being by discovering what gives meaning to our lives.
Making a positive contribution to our world is something that gives many people a sense of meaning. Trying to be even a small part of the solution, instead of part of the problem, offers a way to live with a greater sense of purpose and dignity.
If you’re doing good things in our world, I wouldn’t want you to stop. But I might wonder whether you’re pacing yourself so that you don’t succumb to burnout. You won’t be much help to the world, nor to yourself, if you run yourself into the ground.
An antidote to burnout is to balance your life with whatever truly nurtures you. A symphony is more robust when a variety of instruments are in play. A walk in the park, a bike ride, going to the gym, doing your artwork, meditation, yoga, or whatever nurtures you can recharge your batteries and boost to your immune system.
If your work is solitary and you spend much time consuming the daily news, you may especially need to add nurturing connections to your daily diet. Being wired for connection, we humans do better when we’re not isolated and disconnected.
Don’t Overlook the Small Things That Make a Difference
It might seem like a daunting task to nudge our world in a positive direction—and it certainly is. But don’t overlook the small, yet meaningful ways you can make your corner of the world a better place. “Think globally and act locally” has long been an operating principle for those wanting to change our world for the better.
If you can manage your internal state in a way where you can maintain a smile in your eyes, or spring in your step, or kindness in your voice, you’re more likely to touch people in a positive way than if your mood is dour and depressed. As you balance your life with activities and relationships that nurture you, you will generate more inner resources, thereby allowing you to touch others with a kindness and caring that might buoy their spirits and help keep them going.
There is no simple formula for how to balance saving our world with savoring it. But I do believe that if we’re not adept at taking care of ourselves, whatever good we’re doing in the world may not be sustainable. Self-care is an important foundation for helping others.
Each of us needs to keep re-finding our own balance and what works for us in an ever-changing, dynamic world. The more capable we are of nurturing ourselves and savoring the beautiful things of this world, the more inner resources we can bring to bear on saving it.