First, let’s differentiate between hope and optimism. “Hope focuses more directly on the personal attainment of specific goals, whereas optimism focuses more broadly on the expected quality of future outcomes in general.” In other words, optimism is the belief that things will turn out all right; hope makes no such assumption but is a conviction that one can act to make things better in some way. (Arthur C. Brooks). Research has shown that hope is propelled by feelings and action — making it different than a wish. We can do something about hope! Research has also documented the impact of hopefulness on physical health, relationships, resilience and even the environment. Since being hopeful has so many benefits we need to promote it more fully. Let’s look at five ways to build hopefulness:
- Set realistic expectations for yourself (and others). If our expectations fit within the scope of reality we will tend to meet them or even exceed them. This of course makes us more content, happy, fulfilled and conversely, diminishes the possibilities of being miserable and disappointed. Don’t expect reliability from someone who has let you down continuously. Neither do you want to place unrealistic expectations on yourself. This only creates unnecessary shame and false guilt.
- Focus on what you can control or influence. Control really is an illusion but feeling out of control can be extremely distressing. Look for the things in your life and circumstances that you do have control or influence
over. One thing we can never lose is the ability to choose our attitude.What do you want to do with yours? Find the things you can control in your daily routine — you get to control if you have a shower, go out of the house, fuel your body well, talk to someone or take care of yourself appropriately.
- Cultivate connections. Connection is a central human need that we have. It is impactful and brings meaning into our lives. Look for people who have similar values or goals. Determine where you want to invest some of your time and energy. This can provide inspiration and support as we connect and do life together. Safety and connection are two of our central needs. Where do I feel safe and connected — even when I’m by myself?
- Pan for gold. Sift through the things that have happened to you and look for the golden nuggets. This is where we find the benefits of resilience and perseverance. What do you learn from the hard times and struggles? What can you look forward to in the future? Celebrate your ability to overcome adversity. Look for the meaning and purpose that comes from what you have lived through. Oh, and know that you CAN do hard things!
- Set new goals and new priorities. The path to hopefulness isn’t necessarily an easy one but an eye opening one. Step back and reevaluate the toolkit that you formerly approached life’s challenges with. What would you choose to do differently next time? As you may have heard said, if you aim at nothing you are bound to hit it. What goals and priorities do you want to implement into your life? Set a short term and a long term goal — with measurable and realistic steps.
Building hopefulness into your life is a practice that yields many worthwhile results. Embrace the possibility that life can be better and ruthlessly eliminate the negative thinking that makes you feel hopeless. Just as we can learn hopelessness, we can also learn hopefulness — and trust me, it feels much, much better.