As necessary as air and water, hope is an essential element to a healthy life. As a member of our human family, these past 6 months have taught me much about hope. Perhaps you’ve been learning, too.
So, why does it matter? In simple terms, hope is a positive attitude connected to a desired expectation. It supports a healthy outlook that enables us to achieve our goals. Enough hope buoys our mindset and our personal and collective vision, but a hope deficiency undermines our mental, physical and emotional well-being. While human wellness requires an assortment of qualities - effort, self-efficacy, and conscientiousness among them - one could argue that none of these is possible without first having hope.
Hopelessness is the absence of optimism, which severely undermines our capacity to project our sense of reality in a forward direction. So, in this sense, hope acts as a bridge. Through imagining and anticipation, it joins where we have been to where we are headed. Hope also acts as a lifeline between ego and consciousness by highlighting our life force. A vital energy that drives us forward and gives us something to live for, hope is an essential element of problem solving and sustaining resilience in the face of adversity. Even a glimmer of hope can keep us afloat.
Hope fuels our growth mindset for success and well-being. It improves creativity, performance and learning. Skills and abilities can help you achieve your goals but alone are not enough. Research suggests that psychological vehicles are the foundational drivers for wellness.
According to positive psychologist Charles R. Snyder and his colleagues’ Hope Theory, hope consists of agency (goal-directed determination) and pathways (planning of ways to meet goals). In other words, having hope provides us with both the will and the strategies to reach our goals.
Achievement of our goals is a primary contributor to our level of hope, providing a sense of validation and support, which instills hope to set new goals. One could say that hope fuels goal achievement and goal achievement replenishes hope, a remarkable feedback loop. While many of our hopes are unique to us as individuals, some are tied to the hopes and actions of others. So what can we expect when our hopes are composite, when they are a part of community or global hope?
It's been hard to digest the news recently and not feel a sinking sense of dread. Bearing witness to the devaluing of much we hold dear - civil rights, environmental and health protections, freedom from gun violence, international peacekeeping and refugee alliance, trustworthy government and diplomacy - elicits a visceral reaction. It’s a landslide of overwhelm that could push anyone into crippling fear or anger, self-protective denial, or giving up hope.
Like many since November, I have spent a good deal of time struggling with an off-balance sense of vandalized hope. Weeks of disbelief turned into months of accumulated pain. How could our societal values be hijacked at a time when we have not a moment or dollar to waste? The daily task of coming to terms with how best to respond to our new reality could easily erode the hopefulness each of us counts on to point our compass. The doomsday gloom can be a compelling elixir.
Yet, while many of us find ourselves floating through stages of grief, there also seems to be a growing surge of hope in acknowledging the lessons our predicament contains. Our collective angst is slowly being replaced by an evolving understanding that a forward-swinging pendulum is often preceded by a backward swing. We are beginning to see the gift hidden in our cultural malignancy, much the way a person facing a serious or life-threatening illness may discover a new awareness or sense of gratitude. Perhaps these seismic tremors ripple through us in a way that impels each of us to improve our stewardship of consciousness. If ever there were a true test of being fully present with another, surely it is now.
Hope gets us through tough times because we believe that we can heal, that goodness will prevail, and that we have the power within us to create a peaceful future. Hope inspires us to take action – to problem-solve in collaboration with others, even those with whom we may not agree - over staying stuck in anger and fear. If we stay focused on the obstacles, we can’t possibly see the solutions.
In order to meet the challenge of our hope dilemma, focus on our own self-care is paramount. First, create a purposeful pause and recognize any feelings of hopelessness. Next, find someone you trust to process your emotions. Give yourself full permission to explore thoughts and feelings. Notice what's right about what's wrong. And, finally, remind yourself of our common humanity. Celebrate small personal or community victories. Laugh, sing, dance, smile, get involved and seek common ground. Meditate, hydrate, refuel wisely, get your daily dose of fresh air, remember to boost your dopamine and go hug a neighbor, a stranger, a tree. Replenish your cup of hope and pass it on!
“Hope will never be silent.” – Harvey Milk
Certified Health and Lifestyle Coach, Sheryl Melanson, partners with people to transform limiting habits into mindful choices that express their values, create action plans and recalibrate their lifestyle to optimal well-being.