“When the world says ‘give up’, hope says ‘try it one more time’.”
It was a pleasantly cool night in spring. I was seated on a bench facing Cinderella’s castle, which glittered as if it was just showered with pixie dust. Both children and adults around me hustled, with their popcorn in hand and glowing Mickey ears on their heads, to find the perfect spot to watch the imminent fireworks spectacle.
At ten o’clock, the castle changed colors and the show opened with these words: “When stars are born, they possess a gift or two. One of them is this: they have a power to make a wish come true.” Onlookers gasped as two streaks of golden light shot up the night sky. The poem Star Light, Star Bright and the Disney classic When you Wish upon a Star played in the background.
The next twelve minutes was an awe-inspiring display of fireworks that were synchronized with an eclectic compilation of Disney melodies that I grew up with. A tear rolled down my cheek, as I watched, and I felt like I was flooded with grace. I couldn’t tell if it was the waves of nostalgia or an overwhelming sense of inspiration that triggered these tender sentiments within me.
What I did know was that I felt comforted because I was reminded that magic could be found everywhere if I was open to seeking it. Like many other people, I was steeped in my worries and concerns about the future. But being in places like Disney World can evoke the childlike hope we once had. It’s a visceral experience that gives you something exquisitely precious: hope.
That’s probably why many individuals flock to mystical places like Disney parks, nature reserves, religious and sacred sites that offer such transcendent experiences. Art, scriptures and natural wonders offer an easy passageway into the unknowns and the mysteries of life.
Whether you’re a farmer, hoping for good rainfall during monsoon, a student, waiting for college application results, a mother who wants the best for her children, a singer, waiting for his next big break, or someone dealing with a personal tragedy such as a job loss, divorce or losing a loved one, we all need hope as we traverse through the tricky mazes of our existence.
But hope is an ethereal gem that can only be accessed once we get out of our heads and quit over-rationalizing things using our limited human perception. We need to tap into our intuitive smarts to be truly convinced that better things are in store for us and even if things may not seem to be going right in our present moment, there is a bigger plan that we cannot yet see.
The historical past was mired with challenges. Human life was fragile because of a lack of advanced medical care, basic human rights and modern conveniences. Our ancestors could not survive without hope! They turned to religion and spirituality for comfort and counsel on matters like reaping a good harvest, dealing with illnesses or surviving wars and hostile regimes.
We’re fortunate to live during times when most of us have our basic needs met, but this advancement has made hope less prevalent in the emotional makeup of people today. Today, people view hope with disdain, as it brings up a picture a naive chump, living in state of denial, viewing life through rose-colored glasses. They have no desire to drink the Kool-Aid of hope.
But this wasn’t always the case for us. When we were kids, we had an abundance of hope. We were inspired by our idealistic model of the world, believing that fun and excitement were right around the corner. As we grow up, hope dwindles because our heart hardens with each disappointment. It gets calcified with distrust and our perception gets imbued with cynicism.
The truth is that life is tough and potentially full of ups and downs, but without them, we can’t build character. No matter how many skills and talents you have, you absolutely cannot enjoy the journey of life if you can’t maintain a steady flame of hope within you because that’s what will keep you going. Those who lose all hope lose life force and usually spiral into depression.
Now, this isn’t just some New Age, spiritual mumbo jumbo – science has repeatedly proven the positive impact of hope on our wellbeing. Even though hope isn’t tangible or easily measurable, experts like Jerome Groopman, who wrote The Anatomy of Hope, says that researchers are learning that a change in mindset has the power to alter our brain’s neurochemistry.
Groopman writes, “Belief and expectation–– the key elements of hope––can block pain by releasing the brain’s endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine. In some cases, hope can also have important effects on fundamental physiological processes like respiration, circulation and motor function.”
Hope is also a natural stress reliever, which strengthens our immune system. Beyond physiological benefits, hope improves social relationships, makes you more resilient and willing to take chances to progress in your life and to broaden your horizons. More importantly, being hopeful quite simply makes you a happier person who can glean wisdom and joy from every experience.
Now, being hopeful doesn’t suggest that we should bury our heads in the sand and become Pollyannas. Instead, it means that we should have the maturity and foresight to understand what exactly we’re dealing with are but open enough to believe that things will improve and get better. In other words, we need to balance our inner scientist with our inner dreamer.
Shane Lopez, author of the book Making Hope Happen, says that there is a profound difference between hoping and wishing. Wishing denotes a passive stance, while hope represents an active one. He says, “Wishing is the fantasy that everything is going to turn out okay. Hoping, on the other hand, is actually showing up for the hard work.”
A hopeful person is someone who understands and acknowledges the obstacles that lie ahead and has an unwavering commitment to dealing only with the truth and reality of a situation. They are aware that false hope will result in poor choices and flawed decision-making because of an unwillingness to recognize the risks and dangers. True hope will find the best way around them.
Here are some effective ways that you can feel more hopeful in your life:
- Find sources of positive reinforcement: Hope is like a candle flame that can burn out without constant positive reinforcement. We need reminders to stimulate us with hope about the future. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to be inspired, such as acknowledging our small successes along the way and remembering the times when we were able to overcome obstacles. You can also find inspiration in books, music, movies, affirmation, and other people’s stories. I also love being in the presence of young children who radiate with optimism. Find your own unique sources of motivation that work for you.
- Have a strong circle of support: As social beings, we benefit tremendously from having support from a community of people that matter to us. Friends and family members are the primary lifeline for most of us but we can also extend our network to include a trusted group of mentors, coaches, counselors or a support group who are open to hearing our story and who believe in the vision we have for our life. Whenever we’re down and out, these are the people who can be a source of comfort and help us get back in the game.
- Stay in touch with your vision: It’s easier to feel hopeful when we are guided by a clear vision of what we want to manifest in the future. That’s why it’s essential to invest ourselves in activities that can boost our self-awareness and clarify our vision in the process. Goal-setting, vision boards and visualization are a couple of techniques we can use to give form to our dreams. By committing to these practices, our vision will become more tangible and within our reach. Touching base with your goals will make them feel real and give us a focal point towards which we can direct all of our energy.
- Stay well-informed and be proactive: Without knowledge and action, hope is just psychological fluff. Hope should propel us to seek out more information about what we desire and take directed steps towards realizing it. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, and it gives us the capacity to make more mindful choices. It strengthens our belief that we have what it takes to influence outcomes and to consciously move forward.
- Stay focused on the present moment: Hope has a future orientation and can therefore direct our thoughts away from the present time. It’s essential that we need to remain cognizant of how much time we invest in planning for the future. Even though we want things to get better, we have to make peace with where we are in our current lives. This quiet acceptance will give us inner peace and prevent us from becoming overly attached to future outcomes. This is not the easiest thing to do if your current situation is less than ideal, but adopting simple practices like mindfulness, present moment focus and gratitude can make it easier. The truth is that the present moment is all we’ll ever have, and we should make every effort to capture its beauty and its essence as we go through it
Hope is an instinctual coping mechanism that we’ve been gifted with. It’s the calm voice within us that reminds us that we are merely a tiny piece of a colossal cosmic system where everything is being orchestrated with purpose. With this wisdom, we can let go of our worries and surrender to this intelligent force, trusting that, in the end, all will be well.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Do you feel hopeful about your life and where it’s going? If not, what is preventing you from having hope?