As I write this from a sunny spot in my bedroom, I can see a kid outside learning to ride a bike, a little wobbly, but she’s getting it. I spot people with their puppies in a field that’s at 10/10 cute right now. So many people are adopting puppies that The Atlantic and The New York Times weighed in on the best way to adopt while sheltered in place. And I keep getting distracted from the scene outside by my newfound love of TikToc because Elder millennials (like me) and Gen-Xers are turning to the youth and the cool and they’re saying, “How do I TikTok?”
These behaviors represent hope for the future (yes, even TikToc) – they’re little glimmers of optimism that something good is waiting for us. We say with conviction, “Our family will ride our bikes down a trail in an open park one day soon.” And the best part is that it’s good for us to believe it.
A study done at Cornell University reported that “hope is positively correlated with life satisfaction and serves as a buffer against the impact of negative and stressful life events. Thus, individuals high in hope tend to show better athletic, academic, occupational, and health outcomes.”
But the opposite of hope is hopelessness, which is as dark as it sounds. If you’ve ever experienced hopelessness, it’s pretty bleak. It’s a feeling like an overwhelming emptiness. “An individual who feels hopeless may often have no expectation of future improvement or success.”
Hopelessness, GoodTherapy says, “may occur when an individual is discouraged by dissatisfying, distressing, or negative life events,” and “not only does the emotion compromise an individual’s sense of well-being and stability, it may also rob a person of the motivation required to utilize available resources or seek help.”
Intuitively, I’ve been creating a hope-carrot for myself when things go up-side-down. I put something positive in front of myself that I can take action on and realistically hope for. Because I know that when I don’t have something positive to channel my focus into, it gets harder for me to be productive, happy and positive.
Things get fuzzy when I lose hope. Like this week, when I spent somewhere between 3 and 30 minutes crying at a banker.
I got an email with a poorly worded subject line. Saw red. I called my bank and started crying in that, “I’m not sad, I’m frustrated” kind of way that I’m pretty sure is TeenagersTM. Upon clearing my head, taking some breaths, re-reading the email, and forcing three separate bankers to confirm that everything was fine, there was hope. And like a flash of lightening, in the darkness, there was light.
Your challenge this week: Build up your stores of hope.
Consider hope an important piece of your coping toolkit. Hope gives you a superpower – with it, you’re able to have things to look forward to, things that are both within your control and things that take a little faith to believe in. Here’s how:
Do something positive for yourself every day. Whether that means fitness, mindfulness or taking care of your body by fueling it, you’re in control of this decision, your plan of attack and the action you take. A sense of control has been shown to have incredible impacts on your sense of hope – and even on your wellbeing.
Create occasions to look forward to. This is hope exemplified. Create something that you can invite your friends to, whether that’s a zoom birthday party, a “derby party” or a TED talk session among friends. This not only allows you to control a piece of your future, but it gives you the social support you need.
Visualize the future you want. Visualization isn’t just for the woo-woo. It’s used by elite athletes for a key reason: visualizing a positive outcome primes your brain for success and clears your mental pathways for it. Think about the scents, sounds, and who’s there in your ideal future. Make it real in your mind’s eye and continue to see it every day.
Avoid comparison. I tend to experience negative emotions when I start to compare my experiences to the experiences I see other people having. In *these uncertain times* I am constantly reminding myself that even though things feel scarce, there’s enough success to go around and even when someone has something I want, I have no idea at all how hard they worked to get it. You have no idea how frequently that script runs in my head.
Do something selfless: Kindness makes you happy and happiness makes you kind. And this positive feedback loop, The UC-Berkeley’s Greater Good says, will help you stay positive in a lasting way. “engaging in one kind deed (e.g., taking your mom to lunch) would make you happier, and the happier you feel, the more likely you are to do another kind act.”