When life is easy and things go according to plan, people often find themselves feeling hopeful about the future. However, when things get hard and you’re facing difficulties in life and an overwhelming sense of loss, it can also be easy to feel that the situation will not change and that nothing can be done about it. That feeling of having no desire for the future nor the expectation to get there is hopelessness or lack of hope.
Hopelessness is the feeling that things will not change for the better and the belief that the person is unable to bring change to the situation. While hopelessness might be the common response that a person feels when facing adversity or challenging life events, hopelessness can affect future outcomes as it is a predictor of depressive symptoms, poor health, increased mortality, and is often implicated in suicide attempts and suicide death. At its worst, hopelessness can be detrimental to your future, health, and life. This makes having hope, especially during challenging times, essential.
Why is hope important?
According to American Psychological Association, hope is “the expectation that one will have positive experiences or that a potentially threatening or negative situation will not materialize or will ultimately result in a favorable state of affairs”.
Contrary to how people often think about hope as a passive emotional state, or with the saying “sit back and let’s hope for the best”, researchers argue that hope is an active coping approach.
According to Rick Snyder, one of the leading researchers of Hope Theory, hope is a goal-directed thought and reflects the belief that one can find pathways to their desired goal, and has the agency or motivation based on one’s perceived abilities to reach their goal. Hope is how people think about their goals for the future, identify strategies or pathways to get there, and maintain the motivation to keep working towards that goals even in the face of adversities or obstacles.
Hope pushes people’s thoughts into action. People who have hope are more likely to put their goals into action and make them a reality. Hope not only creates a positive feeling, but also provides people with resilience and acts as a coping strategy against anxiety, depression, and other difficult life events.
Benefits of hope
Research in the past several years has found that hope is associated with many positive benefits including increased life satisfaction, a healthier lifestyle, better physical health, and better social support.
Aside from that, feelings of hope also lowered stress levels, anxiety, and depression, and led to fewer chronic health problems. People with hope tend to make better health choices. Aside from physical and psychological benefits, hope could also contribute to academic success. A study at Leicester University tracked and followed college students for three years and found that more hopeful students went to have greater academic success. Moreover, the study found that hope was a better predictor of academic achievement than personality, intelligence, or previous academic achievement.
Having hope will not only benefit students, but people can also feel its impact outside of the school context. Hope can also make people more productive at work. A study found that hope accounts for 14% of productivity in the workplace — more than optimism, intelligence, or self-efficacy.
How to maintain hope during hard times
Though there are many benefits of hope, it’s not always easy to have hope and maintain it, especially during hard times. When things are beyond your control, being hopeful might be a hard thing to do. So here are a few ways that can help you to maintain hope during hard times:
Acknowledge your feelings
Bad things happen unexpectedly and oftentimes without warning. When it does, it can lead people to feel overwhelmed, and create negative thoughts which can lead to a loss of perspective.
In these moments, stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and acknowledge what you are feeling. Taking the time to pause and reflect can help you reframe your thoughts and figure out the next step forward.
Focus on things that you can control
When going through hardship, people often feel that everything is beyond their control and there is nothing they can do about it. While there are circumstances in life that are out of your control, it is important to recognize the situation or things that are still under your control.
One of the most important aspects of hope is the belief that your action can have an impact on the situation and it is a step towards positive change. Instead of trying to change circumstances beyond your control, try to focus on taking actions that might reduce unpleasant emotions.
For example, when your loved one dies, this is something that is beyond your control. You can focus on things you can control like taking care of yourself, giving support to your loved ones, or remembering the legacy that your loved one left behind. Focusing on things that are within your control can help you find hope to move forward.
Look for your support system
Sometimes when people are going through hard times, their instinct might tell them to withdraw and isolate themselves. While a little time alone might be helpful to understand your feeling and what you are going through, complete isolation from friends and family might lead you to feel more lonely and hopeless.
Seek friends and family support to help you get through a time of hopelessness. If you are going through something in particular, you can try to find a support group or people who are going through the same circumstance as you. Having relationships and support from people who can listen to you and make you feel safe to talk about what you are going through can help you move forward and can make things feel less hopeless.
Remember what you are grateful for
Gratitude is an important component that can help people to find hope. While it might not solve the problem per se, gratitude can help people to appreciate the positive things that are happening in their life right now and look forward to the good things in the future.
Finding hope during hard times might be elusive, but it is possible. Things in life won’t always go according to plan or the way you want them to. Bad things happen. However, hope can help you to move forward and remind you that bad times will pass too. Having hope is essential in navigating through life. Hope is not about believing that everything will work out, but it leaves room for the unknown and leads people to take the right action to reach their goals.
If you would like to learn more about the concept and science of hope, Life Management Science Labs’ Happiness Science Labs features courses, certifications, videos, and other learning materials that are based on the research of the Institute for Life Management Science. Visit Happiness Science Labs today.
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