Why Is Life Filled with Suffering? Leo Tolstoy's Lessons on Failure, Identity, and Asking "Why?"

The big, unknowable questions in life are seductive, but without small, trivial questions as insulation, those large mysteries can consume us.

Novelist and author Yiyun Li has looked into the face of life's biggest questions. For two years, she lived in and out of psychiatric hospitals as she underwent treatment for suicidal depression. In this time, it was her love of literature that kept her afloat. One of Li's favorite writers, Isaac Babel, said, "If the world could write by itself it would write like Tolstoy." Li reflected on this. As Tolstoy wrote on the biggest topics, like war and peace, but also on the smallest trifles, she took it to mean that life's small questions are meant to insulate us from the big, unknowable ones. Tolstoy wrote the world as it is: a perfect balance of big and small, of answers and mystery. Too much big searching, says Li, and you can put yourself in a timeless trap. Yiyun Li's newest book is Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored.

Is There a Jerk at Work? Here Are 7 Tips for Staying Sane

Stanford professor Robert Sutton offers a slew of suggestions for how to break up negative vibes in the office.

We’ve all done it, had to interact with an asshole at work. Sometimes its the customer who will never be truly happy with their service and yet inexplicably keeps showing up for more service to complain about. Sometimes its the coworker who just enjoys walking all over everybody else on their way to the top. Some of us have even had to endure the sadistic boss who enjoys watching other people suffer.

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Hope Isn’t Blind: It’s a Way to Build Trust and Manage Anxiety

Some anxieties are essential, and for millennia they kept our ancestors alive. But there's another type of anxiety that we can actually do away with—and it's defeated via hope.

In this refreshing take on the utility of hope, Princeton research scholar Victoria McGeer explains that there's a difference between blind hope and practical hope. The latter means taking a clear-eyed view of potential disappointment, knowing that there may be failure, and then putting your anxieties offline by trusting in the elements that are beyond your control. Trust is a critical feature of human social life, and we're often obligated to trust in uncertain circumstances: trust your kids, trust that stranger, trust your neighbor. Hope, when done properly, can fortify trust, reduce anxiety, and actually give you the tools to cope with disappointment. This video was filmed as part of the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism.

A Philosophical Guide to Coping with Life, Death, and Sour Grapes

Can you have hope in the face of death? For believers this is somewhat easier, but non-theists require a different set of philosophical tools.

Life throws us curveballs that test our ability to cope, but perhaps none is more curvy than the end of life itself. Philosopher Luc Bovens examines the idea of secular hope, the forms it takes, and the function of it. He asks: what does it mean to live a meaningful life, and is it possible to die as well as you lived?

This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism. For more on Luc Bovens, go here.

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Coping mechanisms: How to shift your mindset when anxiety arises

Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal discusses a three-step process to shift your mindset when anxiety creeps in.

Come at anxiety like...

Fear and anxiety disorders affect 20 percent of the American population, making these disorders the most prevalent psychiatric problem in the nation. While many understand anxiety as an overstimulated response system reacting to an uncertain environment, NYU Professor Joseph Ledoux believes this evolutionary argument is misguided.

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