Apologies to whatever famous person said “hope is not a strategy,” but I actually believe that it is. In fact, hope is often the best strategy in uncertain times, and one we can all tap into. This strong emotion comes from the heart, and for many people, it can lie dormant until a crisis — big or small — hits. Then, when you need hope the most, it’s there for you to draw upon until circumstances improve.
Simply put, hope is a belief — a knowing — that things will get better. It’s not a wish, it’s not flimsy. It’s linked to the power of our mind, and as such, hope plays a potent role in giving you an advantage in emerging from adversity. This isn’t just my opinion; it’s science. The late psychologist Charles Snyder — who developed what’s now known as Snyder’s Theory of Hope — found through his research that having hope and envisioning a path to a better situation can actually help get you through tough times. Not only that, but higher levels of hope are connected to improved well-being, as well as helping you find meaning and purpose.
Hope can drive us forward, past whatever roadblocks we hit in our lives on an individual or collective level. As our society has faced tremendous hardship these past few months, I can’t help but recall previous challenges in my life where hope served (and saved) me. I think about my battle with cancer some years ago — hope was a powerful tool in my recovery then, and I’m drawing on it again now. It comes down to this: When things are out of our control, remind yourself what you can control. Having hope — for a better future and a better world — is available to us at any time.
Sure, you could argue that there is a lot to feel hopeless about right now, and there’s a place for those feelings, too. But we can’t get stuck there in the hopelessness. Things will get better. We will find our way through this ordeal, and become better because of it. Here are ways to tap into your reservoir of hope, and use it to propel yourself toward a bright future — whatever that looks like for you.
Draw on past adversity
Millions of Americans have found themselves underemployed and jobless in this pandemic. Tens of thousands have lost loved ones to this virus. Countless people are living with uncertainty, stress, and loneliness brought on by the coronavirus. That’s in addition to the myriad other problems individuals face, even without a pandemic. No matter what you are going through, ask yourself: What other hardships have you endured in your life? Then remind yourself: You’re still standing — you survived those previous struggles. Let that give you hope that you will also come through these current times.
Do something that gives you purpose
When we’re struggling to find hope, one of the best things we can do is look for opportunities to help or inspire others. My job as Chief Well-being Officer means that I’m always thinking about the well-being of the people in my company — and these past few months, I’ve been busier than ever. But the irony is that helping people gives me a lot of meaning and purpose, which fuels my sense of hope that we will all get through this.
Let yourself feel the bad
Hope isn’t about being oblivious or turning into a Pollyanna. It doesn’t help to close your eyes and ears to reality and pretend that things are better than they are. It’s still important to acknowledge what’s happening and how it affects you. Give yourself permission to feel the sadness, the anger, the grief. And don’t judge it, but don’t get stuck there. During my cancer treatments I told myself, “I know that going through cancer and treatment for it absolutely sucks.” But that existed alongside my inherent belief that I would survive cancer, and I have a belief that most of us will get through this pandemic, too.
Focus on what’s working
Gratitude is a great way to access hope. If you need help being grateful, try identifying: What’s working in your life right now? What do you see working in society? I think of the healthcare workers and first responders who are in the midst of this crisis, but every day they continue to show up and save lives — that’s something that’s working and can give us a lot of hope! There are other positives that give me hope, too: We’ve all seen the beautiful pictures from around the world where lakes and rivers are less polluted, skies are clear, smog is down, there is wildlife everywhere — all because humans have largely retreated indoors. What can we learn from that to have a better future?
In the workplace, I’ve seen co-workers exhibit tremendous empathy and care, checking in on each other offering support. It fills me with hope to know we’re connecting on a much more human level now — even while being physically distanced. Over video calls, we are learning more about each other than we would have in the office: we know one another’s kids’ names, we’ve met one another’s pets. We have more compassion now, and a greater willingness to be vulnerable — even about mental health issues we might’ve kept private before the pandemic. That gives me hope that when we come out of this crisis, we will treat those who have mental health concerns with more compassion because of this experience.
Envision the future you want to create
If you’re struggling to find hope, imagine your future self, once this pandemic is over. What actionable steps can you take, big or small, to move that forward? What can you do today to influence a better outcome? For now, that might mean staying healthy, or doing your best to practice mental resilience. The conditions that we are currently living under are temporary — they might be “long-term temporary,” but they are temporary. If you believe that things will eventually get better, you’ll be more empowered to take actions now as investment for your future.
Share your hope with others
My husband and I have a group chat with friends, and every few days, I share something that’s inspiring me or bringing me hope. I shared a poem written by Amanda Gorman, the youth poet laureate, that brought tears to my eyes. It just blew me away. You can do this too — when you find something that inspires you or brings you hope, share it with someone or with a group by text or on social media. On Instagram, I recently posted a picture of the sunrise from my balcony, with a quote that spoke to me from Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh: “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.”
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