“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”—Langston Hughes, poet
What is hope? Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” It whispers, “You’ll overcome this hardship.” It reassures us, soothing our minds by reminding, “life will improve.”
Our lives are infused with pain and suffering. Some people experience more of these regrettable symptoms of the human condition than others. Yet, we can overcome hardship with hope. Hope provides us with strength to conquer misery and despair, caused by misfortune, perhaps an unforeseen job loss when on a Friday afternoon, after you’ve worked long hours on a project, your boss, calling your into his office, sitting you down, saying, “Your fired.”
Perhaps an unanticipated ending of a marriage. Your wife weeping in bed, when you’re desiring to make love. She turns to you and says, “I’m unable to live with you anymore.”
Perhaps an unexpected auto accident: A man in a rush, texting on his smart phone, crashes his delivery trunk into the side of your new blue Mustang, the one you saved five years for, now being dragged away by the tow truck to the scrap yard.
Hope motivates us to persevere, into the darkness, to journey onward, despite the obstacles blocking the trail of life, despite not knowing how, or when, or where, or why our life’s story will conclude.
According to Charles R Snyder, a psychologist, hope includes three elements: a belief, a goal, and a path. The person who is hopeful believes that he/she will succeed. Secondly, the person has a specific goal or direction or destination. Thirdly, the person knows the route or path he/she will take to achieve the desired outcome. And so, hope is a mindset, the will and determination to believe that you’ll overcome. Hope also provides you with a map of the route on how to achieve the desired outcome.
Anne Lamott writes: “Hope begins in the darkness, the stubborn hope that if you just show up, and try to do the right thing, the dawn will arrive. “
Hope always whispers to the psyche, “Try one more time.”
Benefits of Hope
Imagine if you had no hope, life would be unbearable. Essentially, you’d feel hopeless, and in a mental state of despair. Your mind would descend into the depths of depression—you might feel suicidal. When a love relationship ended, you would believe that there is no one for you in the future. If you lost a job, you’d believe you’d never find another. If you became sick, you’d imagine you would never get well again. If you suffered from terminal illness, you’d tell yourself that when life ends there is nothingness, nonexistence. You’d suffer from existential angst.
What are the benefits of hope? Hope is a remedy for all sorts of hardships and misfortunes. Hope enables us to cope with stressful events, such as an elderly father who’s dying in a hospital bed. Hope motivates us to persevere when our lives are infused stressful life situations or painful events. The unemployed person searching for work is inspired by the image of a new job to pay the bills and purchase a few of life’s comforts, perhaps a television, iPad, new pair of blue jeans, money to fill the refrigerator with food.
Hope assists the sick person in getting well, encouraging them to do what it takes to recover. It reassures them, “you’ll get better.”
Hope comforts the dying and gives them courage to face the unknown. It whispers “there’s life beyond death.” It also comforts the grieving who has lost loved ones, enabling them to pass through the five stages of grief, finally accepting, but never forgetting.
Hope provides the gift of faith. It instills the will to believe, motivates a person to read sacred texts, to engage in prayer and meditation, to contemplate the mysteries of life and find answers. Hope reminds us to live a moral life—to be compassionate and kind.
Hope is a spiritual practise that enables us to feel “spiritual”, enabling us to experience awe, wonder, delight. With hope, we are able to transcend the self, observe the beauty in nature, live in peace, be respectful to others, live mindfully, and believe in the unknown, the ineffable. Hope is an essential ingredient of optimism, which teaches us “dwell on the best possibilities” in a dire situation. Hope as a spiritual practise is a remedy for hopelessness, existentialism, nihilism.”
According to Positive Psychologists who have studied the science of happiness, hope is a signature strength that improves our well being, providing peace of mind, contentment, life satisfaction.
Developing the Spirit of Hope
For some people life is a graveyard of buried hopes. For others, it is the possibilities that motivate a person to achieve a desired outcome, to overcome hardship, to keep trying, to keep hoping despite the small odds of success. What do hopeful people have in common?
First, the hopeful person believes that life will work out, that they’ll solve the problem or overcome the illness, or get through the depression or grief. How is this hopeful mindset created? First, a hopeful person practises positive “self talk.” When faced with a stressful situation or hardship, and negative thoughts enter the person’s mind, the hopeful person will tell themselves, “It will work out. I will find a way to conquer, to succeed.”
Secondly, despite the adversity, a hopeful person visualizes a positive outcome. For instance, when sick, the person imagines being well again. When out of work, the person envisions being hired by an employer again. When alone, by oneself, the person imagines finding a soul mate.
Thirdly, when the situation is dire, perhaps a person is terminally ill, the dying person focuses their attention on the positive aspects of a grim situation. The person accepts their fate, but chooses to concentrate on the positive conditions in their life. For instance, the dying person might direct his/her attention toward living in the present, putting their affairs in order, spending time with loved ones, fulfilling a dream.
Fourthly, the hopeful person lives in the moment. Instead of being tormented by worry of the future, the person focuses on what he/she can do today to make tomorrow a reality. For instance, the single person who is sitting at home alone on Friday, will combat their loneliness and despair by attending a singles dance or conversing with other single people at an online dating site.
Finally, hopeful people embrace the spiritual or a particular faith. The spiritual person might be an agnostic who doesn’t belong to a particular religion, yet believes in God and an afterlife. The spiritual person might seek wisdom from the spiritual wisdom of all sages. The spiritual person might believe in the philosophy of Buddhism, which includes the belief in rebirth. Or the person of faith is a Christian who attends church, reads the scripture, and prays for hope. Each of these people has a will to believe—which provides comfort. It is the will to believe that answers their questions, that conquers their doubt, which motivates them to hope for the light, when their life is in darkness.
Hope is not wishful thinking, nor is it magical thinking. Hope is an emotion, a mindset, a belief, a motivation, that despite setbacks and obstacles, despite hardship and misfortune, despite the unknown last chapter of your life’s story, you believe that your life will work out, that when you take your last breathe, there is something else beyond this world.
You can do incredible things when you have enough hope. It was Christopher Reeves, a former actor who became paralyzed, a quadriplegic, after being thrown from his horse, and then forced to live for many years strapped to a wheelchair, breathing from a ventilator, who said, “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”
For more information on developing the signature strength of hope, read the following:
- Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
- The Psychology of Hope by C. R. Snyder
- The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley
- Awakening to the Sacred by Lamas Surya Das
- Spiritual Literacy by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
- The Heart of Christianity by Marcus J. Borg
- Spirituality and Practise at www.spiritualityandpractice.com/practices/