Last week I wrote about the 24-hour-a-day inundation of world news that we're all exposed to – thanks to technology that never sleeps. I cited studies that showed how a constant flow of bad news can, and does, cause a number of negative effects on both brain and body – anxiety, depression, fear. Medical experts point out concrete evidence of physical changes that can occur when our ancient survival mechanisms are tested day in and day out.
Then last Friday, something happened that lifted the weight of a cruel world from my shoulders. And the same relief is available to you with the click of a few buttons. My husband and I sat down in front of the TV to watch director Ron Howard's 2 hour and 27-minute depiction of a tragedy that, nine years ago, also had the eyes of the world – the three weeks during which 12 Thai boys and their young coach were trapped in an underground cave, 2.5 miles from the entrance while water rapidly filled the narrow tunnels that could lead them safely home. The new film, Thirteen Lives, is available for streaming and in movie theatres. It is, in my view, as a hopeless empath, an immediate way to turn off despair and to once again believe in the overwhelming power of people to rise to the highest expression of humanity. When the film ended, I felt as if a dark place in my mind had been filled with light and hope. I really needed that, and maybe you do too.
Let me tell you a bit about the film and why it exerts a message to be cherished and held amid current events that cause us to doubt humanity. It's no secret that the thirteen boys who wandered through narrow, winding tunnels to find themselves trapped by quickly rising monsoon flood waters survived. Most of us remember the saga that filled the news in 2018. We didn't learn then how people from around the world and throughout the region's farming communities came together to defy the odds of a seemingly-impossible rescue. More than 10,000 people from all walks of life worked with one mind and heart toward a happy, heroic ending.
From practiced, professional ocean divers from Thailand to a pair of veteran cave-divers from Great Britain (who were the first to swim to the boys) and scores of local farmers willing to sacrifice rainwater that was to feed their crops for the season – the story is one of unrelenting goodwill, cooperation, and determination. It's also the story of survival and courage of teenage boys surrounded by dark, without food or the ability to communicate.
The film is a visual adventure – taking us under murky waters through narrow tunnels and jagged outcrops of rock – following a guide rope installed by the divers because getting lost in the labyrinth of tunnels meant almost certain death. Knowing the positive outcome of the real-life drama did not diminish the tension of watching Thai Navy Seals deliver the boys, one by one, to open air and to their families in joyful tears. The watching world wept with them.
My husband and I sat on the couch, speechless, before letting out a sigh of relief. The feeling lasted, and soon, I was reveling in knowing that people are capable of great good – a message that's generally missing in today's headlines. And the feeling has persisted at the front of my mind – despite my morning's dose of black coffee and bad news.
I know we can't have a steady diet of uplifting experiences such as watching Thirteen Lives. So I went in search of good news with the same technology that delivers the bad – Google. I did find a number of "good news feeds," including one that gave me a bright red screen announcing the site had been hacked and was dangerous to access. Not the best start?
And today, I learned a few more details about positivity from the 10th World Happiness Report compiled by esteemed academics and researchers and based on annual Life Evaluations from the Gallup World Poll.
Topping the list is Finland – for the fifth consecutive year. Other top ten homes of happiness include Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland. In case you're thinking that colder climates inspire more contentment – Israel and New Zealand occupy the ninth and tenth spots. The United States this year rose from 19th place to 16th.
So what does happiness mean to these global analysts of attitudes? One measure is expressed as "global benevolence." Researchers noted a 25-percent rise after the pandemic's start – with strangers helping others, a surge in donations, volunteering, and benevolence. This might seem a bit contradictory to us nonacademics, but they point out that a big crisis can also lead to "improvements in trust, benevolence, and well-being" because people reach out to help others.
This was particularly true for countries in which people had trust in their government. Fewer COVID19-related deaths were recorded, and more citizens embraced a "common purpose" and enjoyed better health. It appears that when people see others demonstrating kindness and serving the common good, it's infectious!
In just a couple of hours, Thirteen Lives dramatized all these characteristics – people from diverse socio-economic levels came together to serve a common purpose. Elite divers, military professionals, farmers who depended on flooded rice paddies to feed their families through the year, parents of 'undocumented' children, and government officials. One goal – bring the boys back alive.
That the film and the principle it represents can have an effect on viewers (like me, sloshing through the day's headlines of doom) and result in a call to action. Sometimes we have to do good to feel good.
Here’s a link to Amazon Prime Video for Thirteen Lives.
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