What is Hope?
These last few years have been emotionally, physically, and financially trying for all of us. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters, climate change, war, and political divides, it can feel, at times, like the world has been turned upside down. While we need to acknowledge the state of the world and how it is affecting us, we also need to remember to maintain hope.
Hope is a desire for things to change for the better, and it is important because it helps to keep our emotions in check. Hope also can motivate us to keep going, allowing us to accomplish goals even during stressful times.
Hope benefits us in multiple ways, including increased wellbeing, lowered psychological distress, and even added physical health benefits (Long et al., 2020). People who carry a sense of hope are likely to experience:
- Fewer sleep problems
- Fewer chronic conditions
- More satisfaction with life
- More positive feelings
Yet, finding hope can be a challenge when disappointing or distressing news continues to appear before us. Thankfully, with a little bit of work, we can find ways to foster hope within ourselves and amongst each other!
Why Do I Feel Hopeless?
BREAKING NEWS. Seeing or hearing these two little words may immediately cause your blood pressure to rise and your heart to feel like it’s going to beat out of your chest. You may think to yourself, “What could possibly be happening now??” While some turn off the TV or unplug from social media when a distressing event occurs locally, nationally, or globally, others do a deep dive into the event to find out all the information they can.
Regardless of your reaction, what is ultimately important is that you understand if your reaction is serving you. If you feel like tuning out completely from the news or seeking out more information is causing you to feel hopeless, it may be time to re-evaluate how you are coping.
As the pandemic continues, you sometimes may feel like it will never end. When politicians make decisions that alter your life and/or the lives of your loved ones, you may believe that there is little that you can do about it. Rising prices of food and gas may make it difficult for you to afford groceries, or even to drive to the store.
Given these struggles, you may be feeling overwhelmed, lost, or hopeless. When you’re feeling hopeless, you may believe that things won’t improve or that you’re stuck, spinning your wheels in the mud with no way to move forward. With hopelessness often comes a sense of sadness, helplessness, or despair. Holding these emotions is difficult, but do your best to give yourself permission to feel them; you are not alone in feeling lost or hopeless, and you deserve to have your personal emotional experience validated.
The good news is that, even in the worst of times, “hope and hopelessness do not preclude each other – they are partners in a dance, in a process” (Chansky, 2022). In other words, though it may be difficult to imagine, you can carry hope and hopelessness with you at the same time. At times, you may feel hope rising and hopelessness diminishing, and other times, the opposite may happen, but they can both reside within you simultaneously. Remember, although you may be feeling hopeless, you can still find light in the darkness.
5 Ways to Find Hope
1: Recognize Your Feelings: Simply recognizing that you’re feeling lost or hopeless can help you to begin to address the issue. When you notice that you’re feeling hopeless, take a moment to be compassionate toward yourself. Try out some positive mantras like “I will be gentle with myself during this difficult time,” and “Like a lotus flower seed in the mud, I will not let my surroundings stop me from growing.”
2: Take Small Steps: When you feel hopeless, try to continue with your daily routine anyway. Water your plants, text your friends, or take a shower. Hope often blossoms from even the smallest things. You may feel hopeful as your friend tells you about their great day or as you admire how tall your plant has grown.
3: Connect to a Community: Hope is a magnificent thing that spreads from person to person. So, if you’re feeling a little lost, turn toward a community that fosters hope. It may be your friend group, an online group that encourages hopefulness, or your religion/faith. You also can consider joining a volunteer group related to a cause that you care about, or you can join a group of like-minded individuals who spread joy and encourage a brighter future.
4: Look to Your Past: Take a moment and consider times in your life when things looked bleak but ended up working out. Think of times when hope helped to motivate you and propelled you forward.
5: Balance the Positive with the Negative: Although having unlimited access to the internet allows us to remain connected with our loved ones 24/7, constantly being on the internet can also make viewing bleak news unavoidable. Still, you can try to balance how much negativity you’re exposed to in a day. Unfollow social media pages that commonly share distressing news and replace them with pages that focus on uplifting stories, or simply follow a 1:1 rule – for every distressing news article you read, seek out an inspiring or positive story. You also may consider limiting your news consumption by putting your phone on “do not disturb” mode during a specified window of time each day, making a rule not to use your phone two hours before bed, and so on.
Maintaining the Light
These last few years have taken a toll on all of our attitudes, mindsets, and mental health. It makes sense, then, that feeling hopeless about the future right now is a common experience. Sometimes it takes a little bit more thought and effort to locate and encourage hope, but remember, hope is never truly lost. As Albus Dumbledore once said, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Chansky, T. (2022, July 4). Finding hope in hard times. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/worry-wise/202207/finding-hope-in-hard-times
Gillete, H. (2022, February 22). Feeling hopeless? How to find your guiding light again. PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/blog/feeling-hopeless-how-to-stop
Long, K. N., Kim, E. S., Chen, Y., Wilson, M. F., Worthington, E. L., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2020). The role of hope in subsequent health and well-being for older adults: An outcome-wide longitudinal approach. Global Epidemiology, 2, 100018. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloepi.2020.100018
Mohamad Nossier. Happiness – Professor Albus Dumbledore [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-um2u_ogOo
Ong, A. D., Edwards, L. M., & Bergman, C. S. (2006). Hope as a source of resilience in later adulthood. Personality and Individual Differences, 41(7), 1263-1273. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2006.03.028