Given the social, economic, and political times in which we live, we are repeatedly confronted with the issues of hope and hopelessness – whether our own or that of family, friends, co-workers, those we serve as professional caregivers, neighbors, the general public, child or adult. Vulnerability to experiencing a dis-ease of spirit or despair is heightened when our context is further complicated by past and ongoing experiences of social injustice and unrelenting struggle. The reality is that two people may have very different reactions to the same external circumstance. The same person may have different responses to the same situation over time. On one day, we may feel unprepared, overwhelmed, and question whether the challenges that we confront can be resolved, either immediately or in the long term. In other moments, faced with the same challenges, we are able to see possibilities and struggle to free ourselves from self- and other-imposed limitations. At other times, we may feel relatively undaunted.
There is an established relationship between our beliefs and our emotional and behavioral functioning. The good news is that beliefs, embraced intuitively and uttered spontaneously in crisis situations and difficult times, may function as anchors during life’s storms as well as promulgate a sense of despair and helplessness. Positive thinking and hope is critical to our sense of well-being. Hopelessness is contagious; so is hopefulness!
We can each develop a personalized toolkit of strategies and resources that can help us pick ourselves up and keep moving forward when hope is lacking. We can tap into our own personal as well as familial and cultural resources/strategies that have proven to promote psychological survival during tough times. Examples of ‘tried and proven’ resources and strategies follow that may be of value to the reader:
- Limit the time you expend listening to, watching, and discussing politics, activities and people who drain your energy.
- Make a conscious effort to surround yourself with people who practice reasoned positive thinking and their resistance to giving up on life despite encounters with life challenges that prove beyond their control.
- Connect with images (e.g. Mandela sitting in jail for over 2 decades) and voices from the past (e.g. family stories about resilience) about enduring hard times that can energize and mobilize us. Connect with images that remind you of the consequences of giving in to hopelessness.
- Call upon religious sources of inspiration (e.g. scriptures, prayer, meditations, rituals).
- Go outside, feel the wind and sun and delight in their presence; connect with the beauty, simplicity, and complexity of nature.
- Listen to music that inspires and revitalizes you.
- Connect with the folk wisdom embedded in proverbs, folk sayings, poetry, stories, and documentaries that empower and offer prescriptions about overcoming obstacles.
- Remember that anything worth fighting for likely didn’t just happen yesterday and won’t likely be eradicated over night; focus on doing your part.
- Follow your sense of purpose; do something to make a difference in someone’s life.
- Spend a few minutes thinking about two or three things that happened during the day for which you are grateful.
When (not if) you encounter a moment, hour or day when your hope wanes, know this is normal. You are not alone in this space. Reach inside; reach out! Make use of your own personalized hope toolkit. Though familiarity can breed discomfort, take a leap and explore strategies and resources that extend beyond what is familiar.
Flaskas, C., Mccarthy, I. and Sheeham, J., Eds. (2007). Hope and despair in narrative and family therapy. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.