Hints Of Hope

by: Susan Patten

Hope is a word that many of us often use without giving much thought to it – that is until we are confronted with a situation where hope seems to be our only comfort, or a point at which we are forced to face how empty we feel without it.  In fact, it may indeed only be in these most desperate moments that we actually question what it really means to be hopeful – and when its importance in our lives becomes truly apparent. 

So what is hope?  And what is it about this sometimes elusive, sometimes overwhelming concept that holds so much value for us?   

Many people view hope to be specifically related to goals and achievements (“things will be so much better once I get that promotion, find that new relationship, get into better physical shape…” etc.).  And yes, to some degree, these kinds of things can provide us with hope.  Imagining a better life for ourselves or anticipating how we will feel when we accomplish a goal can indeed make us more hopeful about the future.  In fact psychological research has shown that moving toward the completion of meaningful goals does tend to increase levels of hopeful thoughts and feelings.  But, while goals and personal motivation do play an important role in the cultivation of hope, the deeper concept of hope involves so much more than the potential achievement of a “better” life.  In fact, when we focus only on these more “circumstantial” aspects of hope, it can lead to overwhelming disappointment if we do not attain a specific goal.  Focusing excessively on the future can actually create more frustration with our current situation, and increased impatience for that elusive time and place when things will be so much better than they are now.  This can ultimately leave us felling even more unsatisfied with our lives in the present moment.  The key then lies in cultivating a balance between moving toward something that truly inspires us, and finding some degree of acceptance within ourselves for what exists now.      

Hope, in this sense, is really a state of being.  It exists here and now, not in some distant future, and while it does strive toward a better life, it also thrives on the small joys that can be discovered right before us – and within us.  Without an appreciation for what is already meaningful in our lives, hope becomes only another “goal” to achieve.  Hope therefore requires much more than just positive thinking.  It asks us to look deeper into the meaning that exists within life as it is.  It moves us to discover our own inner strength and wisdom regarding life’s current struggles.  In this respect the cultivation of hope is not without its challenges.  In fact the ability to face our challenges head-on is a crucial element of hope itself.  As Environmental Studies professor David Orr aptly puts it, “hope is a verb, with its sleeves rolled up”.  It requires us to face our difficulties with a sense of purpose and an appreciation for the richness of life.  It does not run from challenges, but finds a deeper sense of meaning in them. 

Being hopeful then is not about some “Pollyanna” version life.  It does not deny difficulty, pain or adversity – but neither does it get lost in these things.  Being hopeful means actively seeking meaning and inspiration in life.  This is a deeply personal endeavor – one that may require facing some of our darkest aspects, but one that will ultimately bring us closer to fully embracing life in all of its richness and diversity. 

About the Author:

susanjan08-005Susan Patten is a Registered Professional Counsellor, with over a decade of counselling experience in the social services field and a private practice focused on building empowerment, balance, self-esteem and self awareness.  Susan holds a Master’s degree in psychology and a clinical diploma in holistic psychotherapy.  Her counselling approach consists of a combination of talk therapy and complementary holistic modalities – with a focus on mindfulness meditation and its therapeutic applications.  Susan also teaches meditation classes, and provides private sessions and workshops on stress reduction and meditation.  For more information or to book an appointment with Susan, please visit her website at www.soulspring.ca.