We Can Only Hope

H

ope: “To cherish a desire with anticipation”1.

Hope is a word that we probably use almost everyday, but rarely do we stop to think about what it really means or how it might impact our mental health.

Why do some people have more hope than others?
Is it something that we are born with?
Can we increase our level of hope?
Why do I have more hope during certain periods of my life, and less during other times?
Is it connected to faith and spirituality?

Hope is sort of one of those illusive, intangible things that is difficult to measure, or even describe, yet experts who have studied it agree that it is a crucial component in an individual’s mental wellness. Hope contributes to a positive outlook, which one could argue, is the basis for a healthy and happy life. Having hope is believing in positive expectations about what will happen in the future, which many believe contributes to overall mental and physical health.

As Dr. Barbara L Fredrickson writes “Hope is not your typical form of positivity. Most positive emotions arise when we feel safe and satiated. Hope is the exception. It comes into play when our circumstances are dire – things are not going well or at least there’s considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out.”1

She goes on to discuss how hope opens us up, in contrast to fear which keeps us closed and can have negative and potentially harmful effects on the human body and mind.

If you think about yourself and the people in your life, you’ll probably be able to think of some who are more hopeful than others.  Perhaps this is inherent, or due to the circumstances of one’s life that have shaped that individual’s level of optimism for the future. Or maybe it’s the way a person is socialized to view life and its many challenges.  Regardless of how hopeful a person is or is not, a great skill to develop is how to increase our level of hope, which experts believe is possible. What makes this super challenging is that we usually need hope the most when things are not going very well.  So how can we do this? Well I have a few ideas that we can try to create some new positive neuropathways in our brain that can contribute to our level of happiness and hopefulness for the future:

  • Find a positive affirmation and make it your mantra. This may change every day, or you might find one that you’ll want to stick to for a while.  Replace negative thinking with positive thoughts. Even if you don’t believe the thought at first, stick with it and you’ll start to feel better with time.
  • Try to connect with something that you consider spiritual, or that reminds you that there are bigger, more powerful forces around us. For example, taking time to appreciate nature, or if you’re spiritual, praying, or meditating.
  • Think about the things in your life that you are thankful for. This will change your perspective and shift your thinking to the positive and in turn create more space for hope.
  • Move your body. Try to walk, stretch, do yoga or exercise daily. Connecting with your physical body creates a positive energy flow through our chakras and allows the body to harmonize.  With a balanced energy system, our mind and body synchronize and improve our overall health and wellness.

Let me know if you try any of these things, or if you have other experiences with or thoughts about hope. I hope to hear from you soon! :)

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