Hope. You can’t live without it.
- Keeps you from losing heart
- Allows you to persevere through difficulty
- Shifts your focus to an unseen reality
If you lose heart, you have tragically shifted your mindset from hopeful to hopeless. How does hopelessness occur?
In a landmark study by Martin Seligman (1967), two groups of dogs received electric shocks while strapped in a hammock. While one group was able to exert some control over the situation and could turn off the shock by pushing a panel that was close to their noses, the other group – yoked to the first group – had no such power. For them, the shocks were inescapable. Ultimately, the dogs in one group were able to exercise some control, while the dogs in the second group could only endure. When the dogs in the second group were later faced with a new situation and were provided with an escape from electrical shocks, they had already learned to become passive while (incorrectly) perceiving no control over their circumstances. They had learned to become helpless. In other words, they gave up hope and became passive even when future options and opportunities were presented.
Likewise, individuals who are clinically diagnosed with depression usually meet the criteria of “hopelessness” and “helplessness” because they perceive they have no control to make their future better (no hope) or have any mastery to change the way things are (no options).
Barbara Fredrickson, nationally known scientist and researcher, contends that “Hope comes into play when your circumstances are dire – things are not going well for you, or there’s considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out. Hope arises precisely within those moments when hopelessness or despair seem just as likely” (Positivity, p. 43). Furthermore, it is the belief that “Possibilities exist. Hope sustains you. It keeps you from collapsing into despair. It motivates you to tap into your own capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires you to plan for a better future.”
How, then, do you embrace hope? You cultivate it, especially when your circumstances do not look promising. How do you start the process?
- Start a gratitude list. If you’re not used to doing this, begin by listing 1-3 things a day for which you are thankful. Look for anything – however small or seemingly insignificant – that is a blessing in any given day. Did someone pay you a compliment? Did you get a good night’s sleep? Did your spouse or children offer a hug before heading out the door? Did you enjoy learning a new task at work? As a side note, have you ever noticed that negative people are seldom thankful or show gratitude?
- Look for a deeper meaning. Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, was able to cultivate and keep hope alive in his dire situation because he looked beyond his current circumstances for a deeper, broader meaning that could motivate and propel him for a greater good and purpose in the future.
- Refuse to become passive. This is a choice! If we learn to become passive because we perceive we have no control, then we can learn to cultivate hope in the midst of despair. Do changes need to be made in your life? In your health? In your marriage? Giving up is certainly an option, but it’s not the option that God desires for you. He never imposes His best on you, but He invites you to it. And He created you with volition. Refuse to embrace the mindset that “This is the way it is” or assume a victim’s mentality (much like the dogs in Seligman’s experiment) which says “I’m a product of my upbringing or my environment” or “I have no control to change things.”
- Do not ask “Why?” since knowing the answer will likely not change the situation. Instead, ask “What am I supposed to learn?” If you are willing, allow yourself the option of learning something meaningful and beneficial that not only will benefit you, but encourage others in the future.
- Ask what God is trying to do in your life. He loves you far beyond your comprehension. Cultivate spiritual growth in the midst of dire circumstances.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb. 11:1).
Cultivate Hope. It’s Your Choice.