Inside: What is hope? It’s not wishful thinking or fairy dust. It’s practical, action-oriented, and has a lot in common with resilience.
In its simplest sense, hope is, I believe, the ability to envision a new joyful possibility. To hold a vision for where we’re heading or where we want to go, and then choosing to step out into that vision.
It does not mean we see the whole path ahead. All we have to do is to step out into the little bit of light we have. We find our way in (imperfect) action, not before.
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.Anne Lamott
what is hope?
A more scientific take on things, is that hope is a realistic sense of optimism or attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes.
Hope has a couple of key characteristics: a sense of agency (the feeling of control over actions and their consequences) and the belief that we can produce alternative routes or pathways to our desired goals. (source)
Agency and flexible thinking are also keys of resilience! In fact, hope and resilience have plenty in common.
In this conversation I talk about “a hope map for hard times.”
why is hope important? Choosing a new joyful or hopeful possibility
Just as we often meet joy and freedom in the winter seasons of life, we generally don’t call upon hope unless life is hard or things feels out of our control. Research tells us that “hope’s true and unique nature is in the realm of possibility, when individuals are dealing with greater uncertainty.” (source)
If you’ve ever asked yourself why hope is important, if it actually matters, consider the following significant benefits:
Hope is protective against despair and depression. Higher levels of hope improve mood, physical and psychological wellbeing, and can lead to better outcomes in the face of a life-threatening situation. It increases life satisfaction and self-esteem, and is protective against depression. (source)
Higher hope also corresponds with superior academic and athletic performance, and enhanced interpersonal relationships. (source) And people with higher levels of hope report a stronger sense of purpose and less loneliness. (source)
Hope is the lamp that lights our path through the darkness or a candle in the window. It’s an anchor in the wildest storm. And it’s the empowering story that tells us we have power of choice to help build a life and world we want to live in.
We move through different seasons of life and even the easiest of them are messy. But some of them are incredibly painful, scary, and heart-wrenching. It’s especially in these ‘winter seasons‘ of life that we need a spark of new possibility to hold on to. The knowledge that spring comes again. That pain isn’t all there is.
And in some cases, hope gently reminds us that there is beauty and wisdom even here, in the darkest season. It reminds us for instance that as the Celtic proverb goes, ‘death is the middle of a long life.” New life grows from broken or barren places. What seems impossible to survive can sometimes yield amazing fruit (which does not mean that we need to look for purpose in suffering).
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.Viktor Frankl
How to practice hope-in-action
We often think of hope as an emotion alone. Naming our feelings is healthy. But a feeling without action to back it up won’t help us heal or grow forward.
Hope is actually more a way of thinking or a state of being. (source)
In the hardest moments or seasons, we cannot rely on feelings alone. In fact, it’s dangerous to do so. My feelings told me that surely I would die after my son ended his life. And I’ve been in other hard and dark seasons when my feelings told me that I would never come back up for air.
So we need to learn to look outside of our feelings for truth, like the truth that others have survived incredibly hard things and learned to thrive again. We look outside of our feelings for new joyful or hopeful possibility; we have to ‘see’ that new possibility in order to step into it.
I often turn to story and science, memoir or a good evidence-based; both regularly encourage me to keep showing up fully to life in every season. Grief work, trauma therapy, brave and compassionate community, professional help of various kinds, can all be ways to figure out how to just do the next right thing.
And because perfection is never required, and in the hardest of seasons we already have limited capacity, I focus on imperfect action. One small, wobbly step and then another. Hope-in-action.
My hope map for a brave + beautiful life
My Hope Map for a Brave + Beautiful Life reflects the decades of growth, healing, and study that have served me, and that I now use in my coaching and community to help other women journey to freedom, health and joy. There are many paths to a brave and beautiful life; this is the one I know.
Sometimes we just need to see a new joyful or hopeful possibility. Use the assessment to identify your current level of friendship with yourself then map a soul-honouring path forward.
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