Virtue, Beauty, Meaning, and Hope Amidst Turbulent Times

May 4, 2020

Louis Tay

Depressing news seem to surround us each day. Deaths from COVID-19. Hospitals unable to cope with new patients. Economic uncertainty and skyrocketing unemployment. 

Amidst suffering and challenge, it is easy to feel uniquely alone and isolated. But – it is helpful to be reminded that perhaps every generation before us has had global challenges. Wars. Calamities. Economic depression. We are not alone in our struggles. Through these narrative of shared experiences of hardship, research shows that it can help us find meaning and work toward solutions. It can anchor and connect us in deep ways to the shared hardships that humanity has gone through. 

Many of these narratives and shared experiences can be found in the arts and humanities. My colleagues and I suggest that they immerse us deeply in issue of what it means to live our lives well, they help us acquire new ways of seeing beauty amidst darkness, cause us to reflect on where we find meaning and purpose amidst suffering, and help us find stories of hope. 

Living Our Lives Well.Philosophy has sought to answer the question of a well-lived life, or a life of flourishing. Aristotle proposed that living a life of virtue and moral excellence is the way to live well. If we agree with this thesis, we can use these challenges to examine our reactions to determine if we are living well. Do we react to our circumstance with self-interest? Do we extend kindness and love to others even if it is costly to ourselves?  

Seeing Beauty.One dimension of art and artistic performance is to spotlight beauty in its various expressions. Yet, in our busyness, we often neglect to pause and appreciate our world. Recognizing the fragility and temporality of life can heighten our appreciation for moments of beauty – even while stuck at home 24-hours a day. During this time, can we pause and be moved by beauty around us? Can we practice “slow art” (or slow viewing of art) more in our lives?  

Finding Meaning and Purpose.People have long turned to religion for comfort amidst chaos and suffering. Research in global representative samples shows that more religious individuals have greater meaning and purpose in their lives, especially in the context of difficult life circumstances. For example, Buddhism offers that suffering stems from a clinging to material goods; monotheistic traditions offer that suffering may draw us closer to God. Can we turn to these traditions and teachings to find meaning and purpose amidst challenge? 

Stories of Hope.Literature and history are replete with stories of hope, resilience, and overcoming hardships. These narratives provide us opportunities to learn vicariously and find hope ourselves. This does not mean that we need to shun negativity. Research shows that families who co-narrate negative experiences leads to positive child development. This is because it helps children with processing these emotions and regulate them. Research also demonstrates that individuals whose life stories find redemptive meanings through suffering experience greater mental health well-being. Can we find and share stories of hope to encourage each other during this time? Can we craft redemptive hope in our own life stories amidst adversity? 

Be well,

Dr. Louis Tay

Tay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. He has expertise in well-being, assessments, and data science. Check back each week for his wellness tip of the week!


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