Journalist and Human Rights Advocate



Why we need happiness when everything feels bleak, the Toronto Star

For those who remember watching the movie Titanic, you’ll probably recall that moment in which the ship’s musicians begin to play music as the vessel slowly sinks into the North Atlantic Ocean.

That wasn’t a bit of fictional flair thrown in for dramatic effect. The scene was based on Wallace Henry Hartley’s real-life decision to lead the ship’s eight-member band in a musical concert as a way to comfort the passengers as they were loaded on to lifeboats.

With so much depressing news filling our social media feeds from around the world — and even from our own backyards — one wonders how on earth we can find solace when it feels as though we’re all sinking into a despairing reality.

According to the newly released 2019 Global Emotions Report by the polling agency Gallup, more than 1-in-3 people around the world said they experience worry or stress. The number of people who said they had felt angry in 2018 hit an all-time high. Sadness is also at record levels globally.

This isn’t surprising as millions of people live in dire straits. Many of us are now able to instantly witness the ongoing pain and suffering of communities everywhere. And while the numbers of Canadians reporting feeling angry or sad is relatively low, close to half of Canadians reported feeling stressed out.

Depressing news is what led a young graphic designer in the U.K. to publish “The Happy Newspaper” in 2015. It continues to bring uplifting news to readers around the world who receive the quarterly paper in the mail. Its publisher Emily Coxhead was recently featured in a viral social media news story that has attracted over 2 million views. “I was trying to find the good in humanity and the good in people in really awful times,” she explained.

Her paper has become wildly successful and her social media platforms attract tens of thousands of followers, all searching for a bit of good news and everyday heroes.

One such everyday hero who has popped up on social media is Shaymaa Ismaa’eel. She decided to pose with a wide smile in front of a group of anti-Muslim protesters who had gathered near a conference she was attending in Chicago. With a powder-pink hijab draping her shoulders, the 24-year-old also flashed a peace sign. The image has been liked over 500,000 times. “On April 21, I smiled in the face of bigotry and walked away feeling the greatest form of accomplishment,” she wrote on Instagram.

When it comes to confronting hate, a former Ottawa resident also got into the spirit of turning ugly emotions into something beautiful. Canadian Egyptian Tarek Mounib travelled across the United States last year to find Americans who are “concerned about an Islamic threat” and invite them on a free trip to Egypt.

His aim? To introduce both Americans and Egyptians to folks they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to meet. The heartwarming outcomes were captured in a movie that is set to screen across the United States in June, and in Canada, later this summer.

This may be the stuff of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows but looking on the bright side of life doesn’t only make us feel better, it even improves health outcomes, according to a 2016 Harvard University study. After analyzing health data of 70,000 women collected over eight years, researchers concluded that “the most optimistic women had a nearly 30 per cent lower risk of dying from any of the diseases analyzed in the study compared with the least optimistic women.”

The desire to find hope even when the world feels dismal is why we so commonly see people who have been touched by unbearable tragedies do something positive to honour their loved ones.

For instance, the family of Logan Boulet, one of the young people who died in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash last year, marked the anniversary of the tragedy by launching Green Shirt Day to encourage people to register as organ donors.

Amira Elghawaby