Hope is the thing with feathers—That perches in the soul—And sings the tune without the words—And never stops—at all. - Emily Dickinson
Hope. Like love, it’s a little word with enormous meaning. In the presence of hope, depression can become joy, defeat becomes triumph, and crisis becomes opportunity. Hope can even be the difference between life and death. It’s precious, which is no more painfully apparent than when it is lost.
Although hope works its greatest magic during intense struggles, it can be developed as an attribute too—part of a person’s character or way of dealing with life. It’s easy to tell the people who live hope-filled lives by their positive outlooks, resiliency, and compassion towards others. In the face of life’s difficulties, people with hope feel pain and hurt, yet don’t lose perspective because of their fundamental belief that things will get better and goodness will prevail.
Whether you’re trying to cope with a problem or just want to feel happier and calmer more of the time, there are things you can do to foster a more hope-filled attitude and way of living:
- Stay in the moment: When something upsetting occurs, it’s natural to start predicting future outcomes; and the stories we come up with are generally pretty dire. Thinking this way feeds fear and drives away hope. Developing mindfulness—that lovely, conscious focus on the here-and-now—can keep your brain busy and out of negative possibilities. It can also give you an appreciation for all the goodness and beauty that surrounds you right now.
- Don’t catastrophize: No matter what happens—even if it’s a huge disappointment or distressing incident—strive to keep a balanced perspective. Sometimes we overreact to things, jumping immediately to calamitous and frightening conclusions. Life goes on no matter what, and we always have the choice to put ourselves and our inner peace first. Again, get your focus back on what you can control, which is usually just yourself and your attitude.
- Do something: When you feel discouraged or depressed, avoid remaining sedentary and unoccupied to prevent drifting deeper into hopeless-type thinking. Get up and do something…anything! Take a walk, clean the bathroom, organize a drawer, wash the dishes, etc. These types of activities get your body moving (hello, endorphins) and give you at least some feeling of accomplishment. The end result is a lifted mood and less of a helpless feeling.
- Don’t do anything (when you’re tired, that is): The worst time to think about a problem or difficulty is late in the day, when you’re drained from a full day of life. Get some sleep and wake up to the issue with renewed energy and perspective. If feeling overwhelmed, get away from your phone, walk away from the project for a while, get a change of scenery. You’ll be amazed how much more clearly and efficiently you can deal with an issue once you’ve unplugged for a while.
- Share feelings with safe friends or a therapist: When you’re troubled, it helps immensely to share your feelings with a supportive friend or even a counselor/therapist. For specific difficulties, check into support groups or people with experience who can offer you empathy and encouragement. Keeping issues and worries inside only makes them grow, while opening up shrinks them to a realistic, more manageable sizes.
- Pray: God is the ultimate source of hope, and that doesn’t mean only when you’re in church. Reach out to God, anytime or anywhere. Ask for comfort from worry, help with the challenges, or guidance when you’re confused. There is literally no event, trauma, situation, or problem that is too big for God. Reach out and ask, and while you're at it, reach out also to other mature believers for fellowship, prayer, and loving care. Developing a deeper relationship with others and God taps into lasting hope, faith, and love. Why deprive yourself?
- Help someone else: When you put thought and energy toward doing something for someone else, the emotional and spiritual benefits are astounding. Volunteer a few hours at a local charity, take flowers to a friend who’s sick, bring food to a homeless shelter, or do a favor for someone close to you. The flood of positive feelings you get when you take the focus off yourself and put it toward constructive use for others is, indeed, transformative.
Hope can be cultivated in difficult times. The more of it you build within yourself, the greater your potential to grow through anything and everything life hands you. Remember that hope looks forward while regret looks behind. To move ahead or back is your choice…yours and yours alone.