To say we are living in bleak times would be putting it too mildly. This modern pandemic has caused so much distress that it would take us years to find some semblance of normalcy. We lost hope like never before. What do we do when we have no hopes left? How could we find some hope in hard times and make them work positively?

Here’s how science suggests we could get hope back into our lives.

Defining Hope

In their 1991 paper, Snyder, Irving and Anderson defined hope as: “A positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful agency and pathways.”

Hope is a desire for a thing to happen, usually positive. It is an anticipation, an aspiration, an expectation. Hope is the feeling that things will turn out for the best. It is consistently looking forward to a positive outcome for things planned in our life

How To Find Hope In Hard Times

Hope is not wishful thinking. What makes it different is within hope lives a core of belief, and that belief is the essence of hope. Researchers prove it to be true.

However, even when its core is strong, the outer shell of hope is fuzzy. On the outside, we build hope from uncertainty. What we hope for may not eventually happen, and the joys we pegged upon those hopes may come to naught.

Traditionally, throughout various cultures, we have been told since our childhood this cliché:

Where there is a will, there is a way.

It means if we’re determined enough, we can find ways to achieve what we want, even if it is difficult. Experiments by psychologists have taken this further and proved there is indeed a pound of truth in that aphorism.

A. The Snyder Way

Dr Charles “Rick” Snyder , the late professor of psychology at University of Kansas, who dedicated his life to researching hope, laid out a model that requires three things to come together to create hopeful thinking:

  1. Goals
  2. Pathways
  3. Agency

To find hope, and make hope work for you successfully, you’ve to know how to leverage each of these 3 elements. Here’s how:

1. Goals or Aims: While we all know what goals mean, here are a few tips for setting them:

  • You should be sure that your goal is something you want for yourself, not what others want of you.
  • Your goals should be stretching you beyond your comfort zones.
  • You must allocate time for working uninterrupted on each of your goals.

2. Pathways or Plans: Once goals are set, it’s time to recognize that there can be several ways to reach them. Then choose the best way for each.

You may break down a long “pathway” into small steps, and start working on the first step. And prepare yourself for the situations when you may run into blockades – that is, have a Plan B in your kitty.

3. Agency or Action: Agency is the capacity to make our choices and exercise our power in the world.

Agency is of two types – involuntary and intentional. It is the second type, the intentional or the goal-directed agency that is required here.

  • We should be talking to ourselves in “can do” voices.
  • We should be viewing problems as challenges.
  • We should be reminding ourselves of our earlier successes when there are logjams.
  • And, of course, we should enjoy the journey to our goals itself!
B. The Lopez Way

Shane J. Lopez (1970-2016), who was the Research Director for The Clifton Foundation, and the world’s leading researcher on hope, in his book Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself, proposed hopeful people share 4 core beliefs:

  1. The future will be better than the present.
  2. I have the power to make it so.
  3. There are many paths to my goals.
  4. None of them is free of obstacles.
8 Ways To Find Hope In Life When Sad

When we fall into adversity, imagining a hopeful future seems like a losing proposition. In such times, we can make a few efforts to keep our hopes alive. Here are a few ways to do that:

1. Change Your Attitude: Learn to change your attitude and it will allow you to see the amazing things around you, not only in the world around us, but also in yourself.

2. Find Social Support: Find a group of people to meet and interact with who are naturally optimistic and see the bright side of things, and enjoy the contagion of positive emotions of these people. You might find a chance to have a smile on your lips, maybe on seeing the kindness of strangers or the resilience of a stray dog. You may see the optimistic side of some situations. It could be easier to cultivate a positive mindset to carry it around.

3. Look To Nature And Faith: For many of us, the richness of nature is a powerful source of awe-inspiring inspiration. A beautiful sunrise can often stir us like nothing else. We could also use religious beliefs as a significant source of hope. Our faiths could make us expect a brighter tomorrow or get us motivated to act today.

4. Listen To An Inspiring Story: We could create a positive and hopeful mood by watching an uplifting video or listening to a life story by people who kept hope alive when they were down and out. We might also read stories of hope.

5. Strengthen Your Hopefulness: When we make a habit of foreseeing the positive outcomes, we often realize we can also achieve some of those remarkable dreams. When we intentionally daydream about a positive future more often, it can reinforce our hopefulness.

6. Let You Past Motivate You: As human beings, the seemingly impossible things can often appear to be actually possible when we look back at the many noteworthy achievements in our lives. We all have at least a few past astonishing feats to remember, and looking back at them they remind us we can perfectly do them again.

7. Engage With Your Passion: For most, involving themselves in an activity of leisure they had no time for earlier can rekindle their hopefulness in life. If it’s painting, and you have set up a canvas on your easel, then every day you wake up to add a few brushstrokes or pencil strokes to take it to completion. If you were always fond of writing, but time was against you, you could start writing a book you have been meaning to write all your life.

8. Find Your Meaning: To find the meaning of our lives is to know for what bigger purpose we are here on this earth, and how can we make it a better place. When we’re hopeless, it’s easy to doubt if a single person’s endeavors can make any difference to the world. To help fight that feeling, here’s a heartwarming story, summarized from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley:

An old man walking on a beach found a boy picking up starfishes strewn on the sand and throwing them back into the ocean. He stopped to tell the boy, “There are thousands of them washed ashore by the tides. You won’t be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy heard him, then bent down to pick up another starfish, and threw it far into the ocean. Then he looked up, smiled, and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

To cultivate hope, it takes bravery to take that first step forward. Try one of these steps wherever you are in life right now and see yourself gradually transform into a person ready to face and sail through your challenges.

Why To Not Lose Hope In Tough Times

So, if hoping means we have to desire positively while embracing uncertainty, is it not a purposeless endeavor? Should we hope at all if to hope is to risk losing it easily?

Shane J. Lopez, the late leading researcher on hopeful thinking, defined hope as, “The belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.”

Using discoveries from the largest study of hopeful people ever conducted, Lopez revealed in his book Making Hope Happen, that hope is not just an emotion but also an essential tool of life. He said, “Hope is the leading indicator of success in relationships, academics, career, and business—as well as of a healthier, happier life.”

Should we hope? Yes, sure. Because if you know how to hope the right way as research indicates, you may not have to feel too risky about feeling dejected if it doesn’t come true. If you are a hopeful person, you find it has positive effects on many areas of your life. Research finds high-hope people have lower levels of depression and anxiety, and higher levels of happiness and well-being.

When there is no hope, there is a risk of despair. That’s why we should never lose hope.

As Zen master, global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh said,

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.

Final Words

We must hope, especially in situations that seem insurmountable and dire.

Those of us who keep high hope, and set out on our journey with resilience and grit, view the obstacles on the road not as barriers, but as challenges. And we keep a Plan B ready.

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