How To Have Hope In Hard Times (From Positive Psychology)

Finding hope after traumatic experiences can be extremely difficult, like being trapped in an emotional maze. So, how to have hope in hard times?

There is only so much you can do after an event like a breakup with a trauma-bonded person to raise your hopes for a better future.

Two of the best ways is to surround yourself with supportive people who uplift you, and intentionally pursue activities that bring you joy.

What is hope?

We usually think of hope as a desire for a positive thing to happen. But science suggests that hope is the feeling that things will turn out for the best as long as we work for them.

Snyder, Irving, and Anderson (1991) defined hope as: “A positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful agency and pathways.”

And Shane J. Lopez, the late leading researcher on hopeful thinking, defined hope as, “The belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.”

Let’s look at how research suggests we might reinstate hope in our lives.

How To Be Hopeful In Hard Times, From Positive Psychology

Traditionally, throughout various cultures, we have been told since our childhood this cliché:

Where there is a will, there is a way.

It means if we’re determined enough, we can find ways to achieve what we want, even if it is difficult.

Experiments by psychologists have taken this further and proved there is indeed a pound of truth in that aphorism.

Hope = Desire + Belief

How to find hope in hard times? Here are two science-based ways:

A. The Snyder Way To Find Hope In Hard Times

Charles “Rick” Snyder, the late professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, who dedicated his life to researching hope, laid out a model that requires three things to come together to create hopeful thinking:

  1. Goals
  2. Pathways
  3. Agency

To find hope and make it work for you successfully, you’ve to know how to leverage each of these three elements. Here’s how:

1. Goals

Goals or Aims: While we all know what goals mean, here are a few tips for setting them:

  • Make sure your goal is something you want for yourself, not what others want from you.
  • Keep your goals to yourself; sharing your goals with others can make you less likely to work towards achieving them.
  • Your goals should stretch you beyond your comfort zone.
  • Allocate time for working uninterrupted on each of your goals.

2. Pathways

Pathways or Plans: Once we set goals, it’s time to recognize that there can be several ways to reach them. Then choose the best way for each.

You may break down a long “pathway” into small steps and start working on the first step. And prepare yourself for the situations when you may run into blockades—that is, have a Plan B in your kitty.

3. Agency

Agency or Action: Agency is the capacity to make our choices and exercise our power in the world.

Agency is of two types—involuntary and intentional. It is the second type, the intentional agency, or the goal-directed agency we require here.

  • We should talk to ourselves in “can-do” voices.
  • We should view problems as challenges.
  • We should remind ourselves of our earlier successes when there are logjams.
  • And, of course, we should enjoy the journey to our goals itself!

B. The Lopez Way To Find Hope In Hard Times

Shane J. Lopez (1970-2016), who was the Research Director for The Clifton Foundation, and the world’s leading researcher on hope, in his book Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself, proposed hopeful people share 4 core beliefs:

  1. The future will be better than the present.
  2. I have the power to make it so.
  3. There are many paths to my goals.
  4. None of them are free of obstacles.

Finding Hope In Difficult Times, When You’re Hopeless

When we fall into adversity, imagining a hopeful future seems like a losing proposition. In such times, we can make a few efforts to keep our hopes alive. Here are a few ways to do that:

Find Your Meaning

To find the meaning of our lives is to know for what bigger purpose we are here on this earth, and how can we make it a better place.

When we’re hopeless, it’s easy to doubt if a single person’s endeavors can make any difference to the world.

Here’s a heartwarming story, summarized from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley:

An old man walking on a beach found a boy picking up starfishes strewn on the sand and throwing them back into the ocean. He stopped to tell the boy, “There are thousands of them washed ashore by the tides. You won’t be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy heard him, then bent down to pick up another starfish, and threw it far into the ocean. Then he looked up, smiled, and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

So, find a purpose in your life. It gives you something to strive for and helps you to stay moving in the right direction.

Change Your Attitude

Your attitude is a powerful thing. It can either make you feel hopeful and optimistic, or the opposite.

Changing your attitude in difficult times can help you see the possibilities in the same situation, and not just the problems.

Here are some practical tips for changing your attitude:

  • Focus on the good. It’s easy to focus on all the negative things in your life when you’re feeling down. Those are the times when you must make a conscious effort to focus on the good things, no matter how small they may seem. Practice the Three Good Things to help you find more positive things in your day.
  • Practice gratitude. Taking the time to appreciate the good things in your life can help you shift your focus from the negative to the positive.
  • Be optimistic. Being optimistic is believing that things will eventually change and get better, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. It is the law of nature – good or bad, it never lasts.
  • Take action. Don’t just sit around and wait for things to get better. Take steps (however small) to make your life better, even if people around you tell you it’s useless. Little acts add up over time.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. The people you spend time with can have a big impact on your attitude. Make sure to surround yourself with people who are positive and supportive.
  • Help others. Helping others is a great way to get out of your own head and focus on something positive. It can also make you feel good about yourself and give you a sense of purpose.
  • Take care of yourself. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, and exercise regularly. Taking care of your physical and mental health will help you to feel better and have a more positive outlook on life.

Changing your attitude is not always easy, but it’s worth it. When you have a positive attitude, you’re more likely to see the possibilities and not just the problems. You’re also more likely to take action to make your life better.

How To Find Hope In Your Life Make It Work

Reach Out For Support

Find a group of people to meet and interact with who are naturally optimistic and see the bright side of things, and enjoy the contagion of positive emotions of these people.

You might find a chance to have a smile on your lips, maybe on seeing the kindness of strangers or the resilience of a stray dog.

You may see the optimistic side of some situations. It could be easier to cultivate a positive mindset to carry it around.

Look To Nature And Faith

For many of us, the richness of nature is a powerful source of awe-inspiring inspiration. A beautiful sunrise can often stir us like nothing else.

We could also use religious beliefs as a significant source of hope. Our faiths could make us expect a brighter tomorrow or get us motivated to act today.

Read & Re-read Inspiring Stories

When we’re going through difficult times, it can be helpful to listen to an inspiring story about someone who has overcome adversity. These stories can give us hope and motivation to keep going.

There are many inspiring stories out there, but here is one that I find particularly moving:

The story of Malala Yousafzai is one of hope and resilience.

Malala was a young girl in Pakistan who was shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out for the right of girls to go to school. Despite this horrific attack, Malala survived and went on to become a Nobel Peace Prize winner and an advocate for girls’ education around the world.

Malala’s story is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope. It is also a reminder that we should never give up on our dreams, no matter how difficult they may seem.

Here are some other inspiring stories that you might read to raise your hopes:

  • Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid in South Africa. When he was released, he forgave all who were responsible for his incarceration.
  • Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind, but became a successful author and activist. She said, “Often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.”
  • Christopher Reeve, the world’s favorite Superman from the late 1970s, was paralyzed from the shoulders down after a horse riding accident in 1995. However, he went on to found the Christopher Reeve Foundation to help others with spinal cord injuries.

When you’re feeling down, take some time to read or listen to one of these inspiring stories. It might just give you the hope and motivation you need to keep going.

You can read some inspiring stories at The Giraffe Heroes Project about people who overcame adversity to set up a model of hope and resilience.

The next time you’re feeling down, read or listen to an inspiring story to get the hope you need to keep going.

Strengthen Your Hopefulness

Hope is the belief that things will get better, even when things are tough. It is a powerful force that can help us to persevere in the face of adversity.

One way to strengthen our hopefulness is to practice positive visualization. This involves imagining ourselves achieving our goals and experiencing positive outcomes.

When we intentionally daydream about a positive future, it can reinforce our hopefulness and make us more likely to believe that our goals are attainable.

You can practice positive visualization for a few minutes each day, or whenever you need a boost of hope.

Here are some tips for practicing positive visualization:

  • Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
  • Visualize yourself achieving your goals. See yourself taking action, overcoming obstacles, and reaching your destination.
  • Make the visualization as vivid and detailed as possible.
  • Hold the visualization for a few minutes, then open your eyes.

Here are some other things you can do to strengthen your hopefulness:

  • Focus on the positive. Look for the good. Pay attention to the good things in your life, no matter how small they may seem.
  • Be thankful. Take the time to appreciate all the things you have to be grateful for, even if only in your mind.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. The people you spend time with can have a big impact on your hopefulness. Make sure to surround yourself with people who are positive and supportive.
  • Believe in yourself. Have faith in your ability to overcome challenges and achieve your goals.

Let Your Past Motivate You

In difficult times, taking a step back and looking at your past can often help you find the strength and motivation to keep going.

You may finally notice that your past is full of accomplishments, big and small.

You may have graduated from college, gotten married, had children, or achieved a career goal.

These simple things may not seem like big accomplishments, but they are a testament to your strength and resilience. They show that you are capable of overcoming challenges and achieving your goals.

When feeling down, looking back at the past can highlight the feats we had achieved, but let them go unnoticed. They remind us of what we’re capable of.

We assure ourselves that we’ve been through difficult times before and come out stronger. And so we can get through this challenge, too.

The past can also help us find solutions to the challenges we’re facing. Remember a time when you faced a similar, or even harder challenge and overcame it.

So next time you’re feeling down, if you can’t see that you are strong and resilient, take a step back and look at your past.

See your journey until today in vividness, and you can rediscover the confidence to believe that you can succeed again.

Here are some more ways to find hope in your past:

  • Make a list of your accomplishments. This could include anything from graduating from school to getting a promotion to overcoming a personal challenge.
  • Reflect on your past experiences. Think about what you learned from these experiences and how they made you stronger.
  • Talk to someone you trust about your past. This could be a friend, family member, therapist, or anyone else who you feel comfortable talking to.
  • Keep a journal. Writing about your past can help you to process your experiences and find meaning in them.

Engage With Your Passion

For most, involving themselves in an activity of leisure they had no time for earlier can rekindle their hopefulness in life.

If it’s painting, and you have set up a canvas on your easel, then every day you wake up to add a few brushstrokes or pencil strokes to take it to completion.

If you were always fond of writing, but time was against you, you could start writing a book you have been meaning to write all your life.

To cultivate hope, you need to take that first step.

Why Do We Need Hope In Hard Times

Here are some of the reasons why we need hope in hard times:

  • Hope gives us a sense of purpose. When we have hope, we have something to strive for. It gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning and to keep going even when things are tough.
  • Hope helps us to cope with stress. When we’re feeling stressed, hope can help us to take a step back and see the big picture. It can remind us that things will get better, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.
  • Hope motivates us to take action. When we have hope, we’re more likely to take steps to improve our situation. We’re more likely to seek help, to make changes, and to persevere in the face of challenges.
  • Hope helps us to connect with others. When we share our hopes with others, it can create a sense of community and support. It can also help us to feel less alone and more hopeful.
  • Hope helps us to find meaning in our lives. When we have hope, we believe that our lives have a purpose. This can give us a sense of direction and motivation.

So, if hoping means we have to desire positively while embracing uncertainty, is it not a purposeless endeavor? Should we hope at all if to hope is to risk losing it easily?

Using discoveries from the largest study of hopeful people ever conducted, Lopez revealed in his book Making Hope Happen, that hope is not just an emotion but also an essential tool of life.

“Hope is the leading indicator of success in relationships, academics, career, and business—as well as of a healthier, happier life.”

– Shane J. Lope
Interview with Dr. Shane Lopez

Should we hope? Yes, sure.

Because if you know how to hope the right way as research indicates, you may not have to feel too risky about feeling dejected if it doesn’t come true. If you are a hopeful person, you find that hope has positive effects on many areas of your life.

Research finds high-hope people have lower levels of depression and anxiety, and higher levels of happiness and well-being (Hope and the Meaningful Life, Feldman & Snyder, 2005).

When there is no hope, there is a risk of despair. That’s why we should never lose hope.

As Zen master, global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh said,

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.

Final Words

We build the outer shell of hope from uncertainty. We build hopes, despite knowing that what we hope for may not eventually happen, and the joys we pegged on those hopes may not ever come to be.

But within hope lies a core of belief that we can make it happen, and that belief is the essence of hope.

So, we must hope, especially in situations that seem insurmountable and dire. It is not wishful thinking, but a desire to make a dream come to reality.

Those of us who keep high hopes, and set out on our journey with resilience and grit, view the obstacles on the road not as barriers, but as challenges. And we keep a Plan B ready.

Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher.

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Hope is different from optimism. Find out here: Hope v/s Optimism.

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When it comes to mental well-being, you don't have to do it alone. Going to therapy to feel better is a positive choice. Therapists can help you work through your trauma triggers and emotional patterns.