During difficult times, hope can be a powerful force. History is filled with stories of people who held on to hope when they faced circumstances that were incredibly dark and filled with seemingly unmeetable challenges. We might recall the years Nelson Mandela spent in prison and the difficulties faced by survivors of concentration camps. We hear of people lost in dangerous weather or injured in remote locations who find a way to survive against incredible odds. Each of these stories have a common theme: Hope was a driving factor to continue to persist and struggle, even when there seemed little reason for optimism.
Certainly, we are facing difficult times now. This has been a bewildering year. The pandemic has upended our lives. Political events and conflicts have led to disappointment and confusion. Lack of progress on important social issues has been disheartening. Our professional lives have been disrupted and learning opportunities for our students have been compromised.
Hope may seem to be in short supply. Yet, hope is what we need to carry us through. It is hope that can give us the strength and courage to press on, find new answers, and build a future worthy of our past.
Yet, hope is not blind optimism. Optimism alone can lead to pipe dreams and wishful thinking that can easily be dashed by reality. We need to be able to face reality without becoming overwhelmed by it.
The good news is that hope comes from within and is not driven by external circumstances. In fact, hope gives us the ability to face and overcome the circumstances and difficulties we experience. Hope gives us a sense of control in response to adverse circumstances and difficult challenges. Hope does not mean waiting for a superhero to save us or a silver bullet solution. Hope is a serious weapon for serious times.
So, how can we generate and embrace hope during times like these? We can start by reflecting on and examining what matters most to us. What gives us a sense of purpose? What provides us with meaning and direction for our energy and efforts? What will bring joy, satisfaction, and contentment? The answers to these questions can tell us where to focus and find hope.
We also need to answer for ourselves how our focus and commitment will make us a better person and improve the lives of those around us. Research shows that when our hope is centered on making our lives better and improving the lives others, we are more likely to remain committed and hopeful in the face of challenges and disappointment than when we focus solely on ourselves.
Further, living and sustaining hope driven by purpose requires a positive attitude, a specific plan, a clear vision, and the discipline to work toward it. Hope is kept alive by what we do each day. We need to be specific about the actions we will take every day to move forward. The more specific we are, the more likely we will follow through and develop behavioral patterns and habits that will sustain us. The clearer our goals, the more likely we will achieve them. Of course, choosing to have a positive, action-oriented attitude can help carry us through days that try our patience and tempt us to despair.
Hope is not for weaklings and “fraidy cats.” Hope asks us to be tough, resilient, and focused. Hope is within our control. It is not determined by circumstances or the actions of others. We can make it through difficult times and serious challenges if we choose to hope, remain focused, and are courageous. The good news is that hope leads us to a meaningful life, a sense of control, and pride in who we are and what we have accomplished.