The news in the last couple of months has been pretty stark – roiling racial tensions in Missouri, invasions and horrific acts of violence in the Middle East, armies on the move in Ukraine, and increasingly massive wildfires here in the West. All of these things have made it a challenge to remain hopeful.
Hope is a critically important human motivator. If we don’t have hope that our efforts will make a difference, we won’t even bother to try. We don’t like the feeling of being subject to things outside our control; it tends to make us anxious. When we’re anxious, we’re more likely to get crabby, and the crabbier we are, the more likely we’ll create conflict with each other. So, one way of reducing conflict is to increase hope.
Surprisingly, encouraging hope for ourselves and others isn’t all that difficult, though there are a few tricks to it. When we are feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, it helps to read or tell stories about people in similar situations who have overcome hardship. Stories engage our imaginations, and true stories with positive conclusions can inspire us to emulate those stories. Just knowing that others faced similar challenges and found a way through can give us that leg-up, that extra oomph needed to try again in our own lives.
By staying in the race, we increase our chances of things working out for us. We can’t win if we don’t play. And think about it: hope is only necessary when things are not going our way or if we’re not sure they will – if everything were going swimmingly, what need would there be for hope? Hope is our antidote to our unique ability as human beings to foresee all sorts of possible calamities.
We can make agreements with friends and family to help each other identify and focus on the positive steps that have been taken so far, or the positive aspects of the situation. Focusing on the positive aspects of situations is not the same thing as denying the reality of bad things happening. Fostering hope is not sticking our heads in the sand; it is the opposite, in fact. We are acknowledging the reality of bad stuff, but choosing to concentrate on the good. The more time we can spend thinking about the good stuff, the more we stimulate the creativity needed to solve problems and deal with the difficult stuff. Research is showing that when we feel a sense of hope or positivity in a situation, it actually widens the span of possibilities that we see.
Remind yourself and others that focusing on what we want in life can help create those things in our lives. By consistently seeing the good in situations, we’re actually programing our brains to make it our default approach. Underlying hope is the belief that things can change for the better.
Yes, hardships are inevitable, but it’s our response to difficulties that defines our experience. We can sink into despair and isolation or we can seek comfort in the experience of those who have faced these situations before, and find reason for hope. Hope is contagious, too. When we carry hope for moving through conflict and adversity, we show others that they can find a way through, too. When we share hope, it helps us recover from hardships more quickly, and creates bonds of shared experience that strengthen relationships.
With hope, we become energized to do what’s needed to make a good life for ourselves and others, reducing the likelihood of major conflict. Of course, reduced conflict makes more fertile soil for hope, as well, creating a self-sustaining cycle of motivation and success.