By: Butch Swank
I was at the doctor’s and was being prepped for a little procedure. While being stabbed with needles filled with anesthetics, the nurse and I had an interesting conversation. It began with how a lot of people seem so tired, irritable, anxious, and just plain hopeless these days. Today, basically, everyone is racing around with too much to do, and everyone you encounter is in the same boat. Yet, some seem quite happy, while others appear miserable.
We were wondering what had changed. Obviously, social media has an outsized influence on everyone. Even if you’re not on it, you 100% know someone who is that will readily spout off all kinds of disturbing facts to you about the current state of the world. That behavior is a result of a computer program known as “The Algorithm,” and it is widely understood now that social media realized a long time ago, using their algorithms to determine what works best for each user, that people stay on their phones much longer if fed unsettling content versus happy content. In short, the bad news keeps you glued to your phone, so social media companies, to stay profitable, make darn sure to keep your outrage levels as high as possible. The other item is that we no longer have news organizations. We have propaganda arms based on capitalism. They feed their customers what they want to hear, regardless of the truth, because to keep their business afloat, they selectively cover news they know their customer base will like, and, again, it is rarely something positive. It’s, I believe, unintentional, but this results in a divided populace despite us genuinely having so much in common. These two are compelling, but I have a more profound reason to offer.
I have a handful of people that I hold dear that, when speaking with them, I hear these words repeatedly: exhausted, anxious, tired, sad, angry. I feel terrible for them, and it’s their own doing. I’ve nudged more than a few times that perhaps your “diet of news” could be the source, and maybe to put your phone down a whole lot more often. I’m told that is most certainly not the case, and it’s just how awful everything is that bothers them. I read a fascinating article quite a while ago that hadn’t sunk in until now. It said that this behavior of theirs is called a secular religion. Secular means, I had to look it up, “denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.” Odd, right? A religion based on no religion! In time, it began to make sense because if you removed the higher power and beauty from religion, you would end up pretty miserable. Having to be faithful to a religion that can only offer outrage with no upside seems pointless and depressing.
So, about a year and a half ago, I made a conscious decision out of intellectual curiosity to take my family to church. I was raised in a household that simply never went to church, and my only experience there was at weddings and funerals. You don’t really get to know the vibe of a church in those situations. I was curious about what drew people week in and week out to churches. At first, the songs annoyed me, but the people, unsurprisingly, right from the get-go, were so welcoming and nice to be around. In time, I found my groove and started to feel the songs rather than just recite the words. A bit further down the road, I had several moments of profound beauty that kind of snuck up on me, and I found myself quite emotional, which is not typical of me. The pastor said that was not uncommon and that she regularly sees tears of joy during a service. Now, she totally could just have been saying this so that I didn’t feel like such a giant wuss, but I’m going to stick with her story. Also, the more I went, the better I got to know everyone, and in doing so, I realized we represented so many different walks of life, yet it sure felt like we were all a big family.
Ok, ok, I will get to my point. Our news and social media aren’t doing us any favors. If you are finding yourself in a funk, I say, at a minimum, really re-think what you allow yourself to see each day. The solution here is easy – change. Blind Melon has a song with a great lyric – “When life is hard, you have to change.” Being anxious and demoralized makes you think everything is happening TO you. It takes away the ability to realize that you are in control of your life and that change is possible. Finally, if you’re truly miserable, GO to church. I triple-dog dare you! It will be odd initially but hang in there and stick around for a couple of months. I strongly feel that a lot of what was bothering you will be replaced by a newfound appreciation for life and your fellow man. You will WANT to be a better you, and in my book, trying to become just a little better each day is one of the most effective recipes for a better life. Both humans and religion have been around for thousands of years, and the benefits of faith have undoubtedly helped humans as a whole to grow and develop. So, regardless of whether you’re in this secular religion, if you’re feeling low, start going to different churches, find one you like, and then stick around for a while. Speaking from my own experience, I am confident you will not regret it!