FEAR vs HOPE – The human mind is a time machine

The human mind is a time machine.

Even though we can only live in the present, the mind has the ability to look back to the past and forward to the future. This is both an asset and a liability.

Fear is a distressing negative sensation induced by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. Fear is apparently a universal emotion; all persons, consciously or unconsciously, have fear in some sort.

Fear, in short, is the ability to recognize danger leading to an urge to confront it or flee from it (also known as the fight-or-flight response) but in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) a freeze or paralysis response is possible.

“Fear is the basic condition … the job that we’re here to do is to learn how to live in a way that we’re not terrified all the time.”- Luc Sante “The Heroic Nerd”, 2006.

Some psychologists such as John B. Watson, Robert Plutchik, and Paul Ekman have suggested that fear belongs to a small set of basic or innate emotions. This set also includes such emotions as joy, sadness, and anger. Fear should be distinguished from the related emotional state of anxiety, which typically occurs without any certain or immediate external threat.

Additionally, fear is frequently related to the specific behaviors of escape and avoidance, whereas anxiety is the result of threats which are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable. It is worth noting that fear almost always relates to future events, such as worsening of a situation, or continuation of a situation that is unacceptable.

Fear can also be an instant reaction to something presently happening. All people have an instinctual response to potential danger. This emotion is described as fear and is inherent in all people.

Fear, whatever its source, can become a controlling factor in a person’s life.

Fear can channel one’s energies away from areas of perceived threats and into directions that seem safe.

If our thoughts of the future focus on the bad things that could happen through fear, we will be worried and anxious. This serves a purpose if it leads to productive activity.

For example, concerns for my future health motivate me to get an annual medical check-up, exercise, and watch my diet. Beyond that, dwelling on future danger only makes me miserable and wastes my precious time.

Hope is the emotional state which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. Despair is the opposite of hope.

Hope is the “feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best” or the act of “look[ing] forward to something with desire and reasonable confidence” or “feel[ing] that something desired may happen”.

Other definitions are “to cherish a desire with anticipation”; “to desire with expectation of obtainment”; or “to expect with confidence”. In the English language the word can be used as either a noun or a verb, although hope as a concept has a similar meaning in either use.

Hope can first be seen in ancient Greek mythology with the story of Zeus and Promethius. Promethius stole fire from the god Zeus, which infuriated the supreme god. In turn, Zeus created a box that contained all manners of evil, unbeknownst to the receiver of the box. Pandora opened the box after being warned not to, and those evils were released into the world; hope, which lay at the bottom of the box, remained. This is the beginning of the tale of hope.

However, if we expect good things to happen in the future, we experience hope. I choose hope over fear.

Here’s the way I figure it. Good and bad things happen. They have always happened and they always will happen. Once I have taken reasonable steps to protect myself from the bad things, I might as well focus on the hopeful possibilities.

Psychological research suggests that this kind of hopeful optimism is good for both our mental and physical health. This is true even if the optimism is unrealistic. In other words it’s better to err on the hopeful side than the fearful side.

About Stanley E. Hibbs…

Stanley E. Hibbs, Ph.D., is a therapist based in Dunwoody, GA, specializing in organizational/life management, performance enhancement, addiction issues, adolescent issues, marriage/couples issues, depression, phobias, and more.

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