A 27-year-old male, who works in the field of social research, tells me: “I feel that in the last few years I have over and over grappled with this question around hope, and tried to make meaning of the world we live in. I find myself struggling when it comes to experiencing happiness or even enjoying day-to-day things. The less hopeful I feel, the more meaningless all these goals—a career, getting married, bringing a child into this world—feel. Do you think, there is a way that one can find hope amidst all the uncertainty that surrounds us?”
Questions around sustaining hope, finding meaning in life, positive emotions have been a consistent theme across sessions.
As we step into the last three months of the year, a lot of clients find themselves examining their life, the way they have fared in a turbulent time that began with the pandemic and continues to be hard. This is the time of the year when the existential dilemmas magnify for clients. As a result, they find themselves experiencing massive distress and big feelings. Especially for those who work in the field of mental health, research, and also doctors, journalists, social workers, for whom the last few years have been relentless. As a result, for some of the folks, there is a constant overwhelm which impacts their capacity to sustain or experience positive emotions.
Given that we are living at a time when the world seems turbulent, fraught with anxieties, hypervigilance, and grief, we mindfully need to work towards sustaining positive emotions and developing ways of thinking about the world that allow us to feel centered and experience a sense of anchoring. What makes this more necessary is the recognition that as we find ourselves stuck in moments where there is hopelessness and despair, and it’s impact spills over to our family, colleagues, and the larger community. Our vitality, curiosity, and ability to trust people and the world are all impacted if we can’t find hope.
At the same time, as we begin to carry and find hope, purposefulness back again in our life, it begins to positively impact the lives of those around us. Life-affirming emotions like joy, awe, contentment and gratitude, if mindfully cultivated, can contribute to our well-being. What also helps is recognising and becoming aware of how we think and developing a perspective, hope, ability to focus on long-term goals, capacity for connection, avoiding catastrophising—all of which allows us to be present and yet not continually experience despair.
If the negative overwhelming emotions are in excess, we will find ourselves stuck and feel psychologically unsafe. I have found that for me, sustaining hope and experiencing positive emotions go hand in hand. Every few months I sit down and do what I call a “hope check”. I use this time to gauge what I am feeling and the intensity of helplessness and despair, in case I am beginning to experience it. I also try and investigate who I become when there is absence of hope. This helps me look at my own emotional state objectively. Then I move on to actively engaging with art, music, nature, meditation, and doing impact-based work, where I often find glimpses of hope, innocence, and sometimes even generosity that heals my heart. Some of my clients tell me how prayers, community-based activities, creating art, watching inspiring movies are ways they make space for positive emotions and hope. Ask yourself what evokes a capacity for experiencing positive emotions and hope for you.
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How we live is a matter of how we think, feel and act. If we carry hope and love in our hearts, even as we deal with difficult times, we will eventually find a way back home, where we all are working towards making the world a better space for ourselves and generations to come.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.