The Power of Hope
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.” (Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist Monk).
The wisdom from this quote seems to feel more and more profound the more I read it, so much so that I can’t help but want to either highlight the word ‘important’ using capital letters, underline and bold; or change it to ‘essential’. Hope is something I’ve felt drawn to write a blog about because the past year has caused me to reflect on just how much we all need it on a daily basis.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve all had to change how we live our lives to some extent, and it’s brought a great deal of suffering to many. Yet, I’m writing this in March 2021 and the government have announced their plan to ease social distancing over the next 4 months. For a great majority of us, it’s a blessed relief to hear this and there have been news reports of summer holiday bookings going through the roof because people need something to look forward to and a much-needed break.
I know how I’m feeling, and that’s hopeful, and whilst I’ve been feeling fairly assured throughout lockdown that we’ll get through it eventually, it feels so much better when what I’m hoping for feels within reach. The reason I’m inspired to write about hope today though, is because I know it’s extremely important for our mental health. And if you’ve ever experienced the opposite, feeling hopeless, you’ll know what I’m talking about – it feels dreadful (and can be either a cause of depression or a symptom of it).
Here’s the thing though, what if I told you that hope is not simply a feeling? Or a wish that may come true?
Hope is actually much more profound than that and it depends a lot on the way we think about our life and about ourselves. C.R. Snyder (an American Researcher and Professor of Clinical Psychology) defined hope as ‘the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways.’ So, through his research he came to understand hope as discovering ways to get to where we want to go and the self-belief and perseverance to keep going, despite obstacles and disappointments along the way.
Hope has power in it, it gives us the belief that life can get better, it’s the lift we need to feel it’s worth carrying on. Even just the thought of an improvement in our circumstances, or attaining a goal, can bring a spring in our step. Yet I realise that the past year has brought a great deal of obstacles and disappointments to so many, and that’s why I think it’s important at such a time as this to reflect on our lives and think about hope for a moment… What do you hope for? What does a fulfilling life look like for you? What goals would you like to achieve? Are they outward goals in terms of careers, achievements, relationships? Or are they inward goals such as greater self-confidence, less anxiety, more self-compassion, a healthy body…? You might have all sorts of thoughts going through your mind when you reflect on this, and I realise that it has the potential to invoke a variety of different emotions. Maybe you’re not sure, perhaps you’ve reached a goal and then realised it wasn’t actually what you really wanted, maybe you’ve had too many disappointments and can’t bear the thought of trying again, maybe it seems like your aims depend too much on others and they’re not co-operating, or perhaps you’ve got all sorts of ideas and don’t know which one would be best?
If you do have a goal, then do you believe that you can achieve it?
Your answer to that, of course, will depend on how you feel about yourself and your ability to affect change. This will be different for everyone and a lot of factors come into play here. If you’ve got that self-belief, then go for it! But if you’re struggling with it, then there may be a number of legitimate reasons for that. Counselling can be very effective in helping you explore these in a safe and non-judgmental space. It can help you discover a greater self-understanding and build the self-confidence to believe in yourself and your ability to find what really matters to you and how to get there.
There may be a few paths to get to where you want to go, so which one do you think is best to try first? Remember that a path can only be travelled down in steps – so if the path feels long, remember to just keep taking one step at a time. There may be obstacles along that path or even diversions, sometimes we find out further information along the path that causes us to adjust our course and try something else, but hope will give you the strength you need to persevere even if it’s tough-going. Maybe that’s where you are right now?
Something’s happened to knock you off the path to your goal or there’s a scary-sized obstacle getting in your way?
Obstacles and diversions often get us questioning if we were meant to start on the path in the first place, or make us feel bad about ourselves, others, or life in general. If that’s where you are, then please be assured that you’re not alone in this, I haven’t met a single person who has had an ‘easy life’ where everything always falls into place. Maybe you need some time to take stock of your goal, the path you’ve taken to get there and how you’re feeling about it right now.
Having written this blog so far, I think I stand by my first statement, that I’d like to change the word in the quote to ‘essential’ – because I honestly think it is. Hope sustains us through the difficult times in our lives, because the belief that things will get better gives us the energy to put one foot in front of the other until that better day comes.
If hope is elusive for you right now (for whatever reason) or something in this blog has resonated with you and you’d like to talk it through with someone neutral and supportive then please get in contact, I’d really like to help.