This special emotion is a constant in our lives that helps us achieve what might have been beyond our reach.
Hope thrives inside us the moment we are born. As infants we cry out, hoping for comfort. As young children, we anticipate special days and the rituals that go with them, while when we are adolescents, we want a particular boy or girl to like us, a driver’s license and a college acceptance letter. Young adults hope to find a life partner, build a successful career and have a firstborn. We yearn for a loving family to care for us and a long life in our sunset years. While hope evolves and changes throughout our lifetimes, the feelings, motivational benefits and successful outcomes stay the same.
More than 20 years of experience and numerous clinical studies have shown me that those who live in a “hopeful” state tend to be more motivated, driven and adventurous, all of which tend to reinforce a strong sense of self-worth and provide more moments of happiness. They benefit from more satisfaction in their chosen careers, have greater romantic success and more friends. They tend to be excited with the possibilities in their lives and surround themselves with successful, hopeful others. As an added bonus, research has proved again and again that happy, hopeful, productive people with solid support systems benefit from a longer, healthier life.
Some people turn up their noses at the very concept of hope without realizing that a hopeful person can accomplish things others might find to be out of reach. We live in what can sometimes be a cynical, critical world. Life delivers hard knocks to everyone, no matter what they believe or how positive their attitude. While a hopeful outlook can be somewhat of a hard-wired character trait—often upbringing, difficulty moving on from life’s disappointments such as divorce or financial problems or just one too many tough times—can cause even the most positive person to have partially or fully put hope away. When this happens, the goal is to coax that glorious and life-changing sense of hope back out and reignite it.
It starts with hope. The first step begins with taking some time to think about goals that are realistic and within reach, being open to exploring new options, rallying your support system, and doing whatever possible to turn hope into something that is real, tangible and happiness-making.
Hope is related to your perceptions about yourself, others and the world around you. If deep down you still believe that good things can happen to you, that life still has possibilities and that you can find a way to make what you are hoping for come true, that is a terrific beginning.
Take a moment and think about all the things that you are continuing to hope for. Are you hoping to accomplish a New Year’s resolution? Reach a new level in your job or relationship? Trying to become a kinder person? Lose some weight? Make a hope list. For each item on that list, think about all the things that you can do to accomplish what you were hoping for, and then get started on the easy ones right away.
Spend time around a person or a group that you consider to be hopeful and optimistic. Hope is contagious. Being around others who see potential and possibility in their lives will have a ripple effect on yours. Consider joining a group focusing on weight loss, volunteering or attending a book club— it’s much easier to stay motivated and hopeful when you are surrounded by individuals with the same goals.
Fill a “hope jar” with slips of paper that include all of the positive things that you hope for. Include the smallest item you can think of, like mastering how to bake cookies without burning them, to larger items, like learning a new skill or finding or improving a relationship. Pull one piece of paper out at the first of every month, and commit to spending the next 30 or so days doing all that you can to accomplish it. Hold onto hope and don’t give up until you’ve turned that idea into a reality.
If you feel you are stuck and struggling to re-ignite the fire of hope, reach out to family or friends who appreciate your assets and skills and ask them to offer input on how you might move forward. Often it takes a person who is wiser than you to help you see how to be your best you.
As a therapist, I am often asked how I hear so many stories on a daily basis that include struggles, fears and pain. My answer has always been that I see at least a sliver of hope in every person and a grain of optimism in every situation. That’s good news for you, because that means that there is hope and optimism living and breathing inside of you.
Stacy Kaiser, the author of How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, is a successful licensed psychotherapist, relationship expert and media personality. She has a B.A. in Psychology from California State University, Northridge and her M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. With more than 100 television appearances on major networks, including CNN, FOX and NBC, and a weekly advice column for USA Today, Stacy has built a reputation for bringing a unique mix of thoughtful and provocative insight to a wide range of topics.