As a mental health professional, I cannot help but reflect on one of the most helpful things I have learned in my career: the power of finding hope amidst hopelessness.
I often ask my clients during their first session: “What do you HOPE to get out of treatment?” The purpose behind this question is to gently guide clients towards a future orientation and activate their internal motivation through identifying their own hopes.
Admittedly, we don’t always have a clear picture of our hopes, especially when we feel hopeless. Life can be hard and painful at times, and it is likely that we will feel overwhelmed at certain times in life. If our distress associated with difficult circumstances continues, our focus may narrow, our thinking may become less flexible, and we can easily get caught up in a downward spiral of continuous low mood that can progress to depression. Consequently, the continuous stress activates changes in our brain chemistry, physical and mental functioning which is often referred to as our natural “negativity bias”. Our weird and wonderful brain tries to instinctively protect us from potential threats by focusing on negative stimuli in our environment, worrying about potential problems and thinking back to past failures as an evolutionary need to focus on survival first. We try so hard to avoid emotional pain that in the process we create more suffering. It is no wonder that we could feel that we would be better off if we weren’t around, even if that’s a passing thought and we may never act on it.
Reaching out and let someone know, especially someone you trust, can make a huge difference to not allowing oneself to become isolated with feelings of hopelessness or having suicidal thoughts. Seeking help from a GP or mental health professional is one of the most important steps to find hope and support amidst hopelessness. And if you still need further encouragement read our blog: Busting Myths With Seeking Psychological Help.
What is hope?
Dr. Martin Seligman, well known as the “father of modern positive psychology”, identified 24-character strengths that are divided into six classes of virtues. The character strength of HOPE falls under the virtue of Transcendence.
People who have a number of character strengths that fall under transcendence tend to forge connections with God, the universe, or religions that provide meaning, purpose, and understanding. Here’s a closer look at the core character strengths that fall under transcendence.
- Appreciation of Beauty: Noticing and appreciating beauty and excellence in everything
- Gratitude: Being thankful for the good things; taking time to express thanks
- Hope: Expecting the best; working to make it happen; believing good things are possible
- Humor: Making other people smile or laugh; enjoying jokes
- Religiousness: Having a solid belief about a higher purpose and meaning of life
Hope is more than a feel-good emotion. It is an action-oriented strength involving agency, the motivation and confidence that goals can be reached, and that many effective pathways can be devised to get to that desired future. Simply stated, it is hoping for good things to come.
The verb “hope” has also been translated as “wait” or “trust” in a spiritual context. These ideas are woven together—to wait for the Lord also means to hope in Him. It means we can trust Him absolutely. There’s a forward-looking eager expectation here. Despite our present circumstances, godly hope sustains and strengthens us.
In Japanese culture, to find meaning and purpose in life is to find one’s ikigai (ee-key-guy). While no definitive translation exists, ikigai, which is a combination of the Japanese words ikiru, meaning “to live,” and kai, meaning “the realization of what one hopes for,” can be understood as a reason for being, or that which makes life worth living.
One of my favourite poets, Emily Dickinson, writes about “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers”:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all.
How to increase hope
Tip 1: Nurture your character strengths
We all have an innate capacity to learn how to nurture our character strengths, especially during times of adversity. Developing an awareness of your character strength of hope, can help you to focus on “what’s STRONG”, rather than “what’s wrong”. Character strengths rarely exist alone, therefore you can nurture and develop the strength of hope by combining it with other strengths complementing one another, just like a well-tuned orchestra of many diverse instruments.
Practical strengths exercise:
Take a free survey to explore and identify your unique strengths: https://www.viacharacter.org
Now reflect on the following questions:
- What strengths have you used optimally in past successes that would be beneficial in your current circumstances?
- What strengths can you call forth when visualizing a positive outcome to the challenges you are facing?
- What strengths can you combine for increased energy and better outcomes?
Tip 2: Start somewhere small and build on that
Our strength of hope is made up of two important elements—think of these as the will and the way. The will is our motivation and our belief we can reach a goal. The way is our ability to come up with options to get that goal (e.g., recovering from a problem, accomplishing a task or life goal or making a challenging decision).
Step 1: Describe a challenging life event
Example – “I recently lost my job”
Step 2: Identify core values
Value – Care
What it means to me: to take care of important others, such as my son and wife
Why it is important to me: because I want to the people that I love to eb safe and happy
Value – Inner Peace
What it means to me: to feel balanced and at ease
Why it is important to me: I feel happiest and strongest when I experience a sense of emotional stability. It allows me to make wise choices and genuinely connect with others.
Step 3: Consider actions for valued living
- I will actively search for a new job so that I will be able to provide for my family as soon as possible again.
- I will try to manage my emotions as well as possible so that my kids and wife will not be affected by my stress.
Value: Inner peace
- I will take enough time to rest to prevent becoming overwhelmed by the stress of my unemployment.
- I will meditate to stay connected to my feelings and needs.
Tip 3: Draw on inspirations for hope
There are many ways in which you can inspire hopeful thinking, for example:
Watch a movie that promotes a message of hope and think about how the message applies to your life.
Here are just a few to get you started:
- Interstellar (2014)
- The Pursuit Of Happyness (2006)
- The Bucket List (2007)
- Pay It Forward (2000)
- Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- Freedom Writers (2007)
- Erin Brockovich (2000)
- It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Listen to Podcasts to feed your Hope / Optimism
- Never, ever give up hope: Do you want to succeed? Need to be inspired? Want to be a victor instead of a victim? Are you looking for coping mechanisms? This show shares stories of everyday people who refused to give up hope in the middle of insurmountable circumstances; people who have transformed their lives and want to give you their secrets of success. Their message is one of hope, encouragement, laughter and inspiration. No subject is off limits, i.e. abuse, failure, health issues, depression, coping with stress.
- I Share Hope is a series of interviews with world leaders discussing their beliefs and experiences with hope and how they use hope on a daily basis in their own life and in the lives of others. They discuss real stories from their past and cover such topics as experience, relationships, failure, success, coping, depression, suicide, acceptance, business, psychological issues, illness, inspirational and motivational ideas, life, vision, goal setting, love, family, friends, strength, action steps, actionable hope, discrimination, education, freedom, leadership, counseling, dependency, addiction, chemical addiction, abuse and much more. Just about every area in life. The show airs three days a week via podcast.
- Tara Brach: How Hope can Heal and Free Us – Part I and part 2
- Tara Brach: Hope and the Spiritual Path — Part 1 and Part 2
Listen to guided meditations for Hope/Optimism
- Shower of Hope @ Insight Timer
- Kindness to Self Using the Breath @ Insight Timer
- Loving Kindness with Meg Levie @ SIYLI
- Loving-Kindness Meditation @ Greater Good
- A Loving-Kindness Meditation to Boost Compassion @ Mindful
- Meditation on Hope – Strengthening Virtues @ Sarovara Yoga
Tip 4: Helplines
Don’t give up hope while you wait for an appointment with a Mental Health Professional. Should you experience a sudden deterioration in your condition and are at a crisis point while waiting during this period, please contact:
- a close friend or relative whom has agreed to offer support previously
- your GP
- Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467)
- All Hours Suicide Support Service (AHS) (1800 859 585)
- Redland Mental Health Service 24 Hours (3825 6000)
- Lifeline 24 Hours (13 11 14)
- Mensline (1300 789 978)
- Parentline (1300 301 300)
- Kids Helpline (1800 551 800)
- Youth Support Services / Aftercare (1300 00 1907)
- Family Drug Support Helpline (1300 368 186)
- Alcohol & Drug Helpline (1800 177 833)
- Community Mental Health Clinical Care & Coordination (CMHCCC) (3441 3010) – referral via GP
- Living Edge team – suicide prevention (Redlands Hospital) (0433 724 337)
- Beyond Blue (24/7 – Chat online 3pm-12am 7 days week) (1300 224 636)
The professional team of psychologists and allied health workers at Zest Infusion provides a safe, non-judgmental and compassionate space to enhance your well-being. Contact us to schedule an appointment.
“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a different way to stand.”―Oprah Winfrey
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