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As a creative professional, some of my most interesting and challenging work has been in conservation communications.

Sometimes that challenge was documenting a researcher's hunt for rare amphibians on an icy lake during Chicago's frigid winter or figuring out how to explain complex scientific concepts in the space of a single social media post. 

But my biggest challenge was changing people's behaviors and attitudes.

A “good vibes only” approach can lead to greenwashing and complacency, but a “doom and gloom” approach of shaming, blaming, and grim statistics can be just as unproductive.

Although it’s important to meet this moment with clarity, too much focus on the terror of climate change leads to anxiety but does not be encourage the change we hope to see.

In a 2021 study by Hickman et al published in Lancet Planet Health, researchers surveyed 100,000 16–25-year-olds worldwide. More than ¾ reported they thought the future was frightening. Over half said they felt humanity was doomed.
Maybe you’ve experienced this creeping anxiety yourself. I know I have. There’s a term for this kind of nihilism: “climate doomerism.” It’s an immobilizing cynicism and despair that can lead us to think: “Why bother? We’re all doomed anyway.”
I propose a radical alternative: joy.

I’m not advocating spiritual bypass, blissing out while the world burns. Our feelings of grief, fear, and anger surrounding climate change are all valid.

But if we want to meet the challenge of climate change wholeheartedly, we need to intentionally cultivate a practice of renewal.

Is there room for joy? 

When our situation feels dire, it can be tempting to slip into all-or-nothing thinking. Either we’re 100% focused on ending climate change or we’re asleep at the wheel. But this either/or mindset sets us up for burnout. 
If we wait to experience joy until we finally have justice, if we wait to look for hope until we’re done grieving, if we can’t rest or play until our work is done, then we are closing ourselves off from a powerful, sustainable source of energy for the hard work ahead of us.
Joy not only replenishes our spirits, it reminds us of what we’re working for. It’s the act of creating the world we hope for, here in the present.
Author Rebecca Solnit says: “We want a world of beauty, joy, and abundance, and there’s no reason why we can’t enjoy as many as possible of these things along the way. I think there’s a real danger of imagining that the goal is some kind of justice without understanding that justice is beautiful and joyful.”
We can learn from a real-world example in the civil rights movement. 
Before big marches where they’d risk their safety and freedom, Black civil rights activists would often prepare by visiting a church and singing gospel music to the rafters. This communal expression of joy grew their strength and solidarity.
Joy inspired courage, and it brought to life the vision of the just and joyful future marches hoped to create.

Three practical tips for cultivating joy

Tip #1: Tap into compassion
Although we often use the word compassion as a synonym for caring, it literally means “to suffer with.” It’s at the heart of one of the most powerful (and shortest) Bible passages, John 11:35: “Jesus wept.”
But how does “suffering with” lead to joy?
Psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff says that compassion helps us notice suffering, and it also moves us to respond. We feel a desire to help, to react with warmth and caring.
Compassion helps us respond lovingly to what’s going on in our world and what’s going on inside us. Self-compassion is a great first step towards joy.
When we see a disturbing image of climate change, when we read another terrifying headline, instead of doomscrolling to confirm our worst fears or numbing our grief, we can notice what we’re feeling and give ourselves the kindness we need to get re-centered. Then, we can do that for others, too.
Tip #2: Connect meaningfully
The power of connection is strong. There’s something deeply nourishing about being in community with both our human and non-human neighbors. 
Sometimes, it can feel like we’re powerless to stop polluting multinational corporations or enact meaningful policy change.
I had a therapist who recommended that whenever I was feeling anxious about something on the news I couldn’t control, it was helpful to act where I could make a difference. 
Upset about a reversal in national policy that endangers the environment? Advocate for policy change, definitely, but also get involved locally. 
While we might not have much influence over national and international headlines, we have more influence than we think in our families, communities, cities, and states. 
It’s powerfully healing to care directly for the earth, to learn about your local plant and animal neighbors, and to remember there are other people who care too. You are not alone, and there is joy knowing there are friends on this path with you.   
Tip #3: Look for the good
When scary things happen in the world, I turn to the wisdom of Mr. Rogers. He instructs kids: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping…I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” 
There are so many helpers that don’t get the same airtime as tragedies. Uplifting stories don’t generate many advertising dollars (it’s not news when a plane lands safely), so they’re not prioritized by news outlets and social media algorithms.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not happening all around us.
There is good, there is beauty even in our planet’s wounded places. It’s up to us to notice it.
Spiritual practices like meditation and contemplative prayer help us practice noticing what’s going on in and around us. They connect us with the transcendent and expand our capacity to tenderly hold both our grief and joy. And they help us see our world with fresh, compassionate eyes.
We can also notice (and celebrate) the good other ways, too. We can intentionally seek out good news, cultivate a gratitude practice, and celebrate small wins.
We can watch clouds, go hiking, or garden—especially with native plants. Try out nature sketching or journaling. Or head outside for some quality time with nature, noting the smell of soil, the soft rustle of bird wings, the delicate veins of a leaf. 


Stephanie Ewing is the Digital Marketing Specialist at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection.