Recently, my 12-year-old daughter and I had a long conversation about hope. We talked about what constitutes hope and how one can sustain it in a mindful way. I realised how hope lies at the heart of our existence. It’s a belief that there is more to life than what one can see, an understanding that there are things to look forward to, along with a desire to take small steps that allow us to believe in what the world has to offer. While life at its very core is challenging, our belief in hope makes the journey easier.
Hope is not all about unicorns, smiles and positivity for the sake of it. From an existential lens, it is a larger belief that good things can happen to all of us. Hope includes a realistic evaluation of the current reality and yet, an awareness of resources that one has internally or externally to deal with situations and the steps possible to propel us to move forward in life and even plan. Research goes a long way in showing how our capacity for meaning-making is linked deeply to how we think about the world and our future. Our ambition, ability to form new relationships, deal with challenges, work through our grief, and even our day-to-day interactions, are shaped by hope. Its absence can often make people feel cynical, caught in a web of purposelessness.
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Martin Seligman, who is considered to be the founding father of the positive psychology school which focuses on resilience and meaningful life, points out that hope is a character strength. Its presence can have a deep and long-lasting impact on how satisfied we feel in life. Optimism, a sense of agency in the way we perceive situations and trust are some of the elements that constitute hope. It also includes the sense of sustained motivation which allows us to take small steps towards the future. Our ability to take initiative and explore is a function of hope. It’s strange that we think about hope particularly when it seems to slip away. At other times we perhaps take it for granted and forget to mindfully nurture it.
Our ability to engage in “savouring”, soaking in positive experiences and moments and staying with a pleasant experience, is one way to start walking towards hope. Learning to pause and stay with the enriching and meaningful moments instead of moving on to the next big thing or attending to tasks that are pending is how we can slowly start making space for savouring in our daily lives. Our cluttered life, with back-to-back meetings or a weekend that’s packed with chores, doesn’t allow us to savour either relationships, hobbies or even meals.
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Connecting with nature, spending time outdoors in a natural habitat, is a good example of how hope finds a way into my life. The very act of watching a flower bloom or the process of trees shedding their leaves is a masterclass in wonder and awe. In my eyes, the sense of awe we experience relates very closely to hope.
Thinking of experiences and gestures by absolute strangers and acts of “Stranger Love” are other good ways to believe in the world and what it has to offer. During the second wave of covid-19, just as we experienced vicarious grief, we also saw huge acts of compassion by strangers; in a beautiful way, we experienced vicarious hope. Reading books or watching films that remind us of the goodness in the world is another example of experiencing hope vicariously. Watching Schindler’s List again during the pandemic allowed me to make space for hope on a particularly difficult day.
On most days, hope is an antidote to bitterness and a belief in what life has to offer, along with the goodness that may come our way. This, in turn, allows us to be mindful and yet make plans. Try to ask yourself, how do you make room for hope in your body, heart and mind?
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.
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