Hope - a belief or an emotion?

Recently, I have been reading, reflecting and conversing about our human experience of hope and its role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and approach to life’s challenges. I have witnessed academics and Facebook bloggers, philanthropists and tragedy survivors debate whether hope is a belief or an emotion, an attitude, or a divine connection. 

I think it’s a foundation…….and one that permeates all aspects of our lives. 

How, then, do you shore up the bricks of your hope when illness, crime, loss, disaster or the complexities of human relationships threaten to chip away at it? 

Engaging with hope through your mental, emotional, social, spiritual and physical self means that you keep it present throughout your lifestyle and accessible through another dimension when one of them is challenged.  Webster’s dictionary lists hope as a verb so being active and intentional in your engagement with it is integral.  How do you do that?  Here are a few suggestions: 

Mental Hope 

  • Create a vision statement for your hope or refine the one that isn’t working—Less specific than a goal but more realistic and directed than wishing, defining the opposite of your pain or frustrations can keep your hope in sight as you move forward rather than vaguely floating through your life.

  • Define the associated values, principles, or character traits—What helped you through earlier challenges or decisions? Perseverance? Respect and Equality? Humor?

  • Hold a curious attitude toward possibility—Is there an opportunity in the midst of the struggle? Is there something you might learn about yourself? What else might your hope need to to become reality?

Emotional Hope

  • Engage your right brain—Take time for daydreaming and messing with creative pursuits.

  • Borrow hope—What is the daily mood of the culture and people you expose yourself to through the shows you watch, the music you listen to, the things you read, and the conversations you have? Are they supportive or sapping of your hope?

  • Plan something to look forward to—It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming to build in smaller pleasures on the road to your bigger aims but it can be very restorative. Having dinner as a picnic, enjoying a healthy treat, or planning a get away with friends can lend energy. If the things you used to enjoy just don’t seem to feel the same, try something new and when you find something that feels even a little bit good, use that as a motivator to stay on track.

Social Hope 

  • Find ‘believable hope’—Seek out evidence of possibility from those who’ve experienced similar struggles. If you have trouble getting out, check out on-line inspirations and resources such as hopecafe.net.

  • Smile—A smile tells others you are not going to focus on the negative and invites them to do the same.

  • Make a kindness deposit—If you make a wise deposit of kindness to family, friends, the greater community or the environment, it will likely earn good interest and have a good return when you need it to shore up your own hope.

Spiritual Hope 

  • Suspend the ‘need to know’ and accept that you won’t—Too often hope gets overshadowed by “why me?” when you would be better served to accept there may be a bigger picture you are not aware of and are better suited to seek the opportunity in the crisis. Mystery can add beauty to life if you let it.

  • Take time to contemplate wonder and amazement—Have you ever contemplated how a tree came to be where it is growing or how what makes a piece of art so lovely? Inspiration can come from the seemingly most innocuous things if you take time to notice and consider them.

  • Practice gratitude—What do you still have in spite of your loss; what went okay in spite of your frustrations; what do you appreciate about others and what do you have in common versus what separates or irritates you?

Physical Hope 

  • Engage your senses—What sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches are symbols that remind you of hope? Be on the look out for them or bring reminders of them into your daily life.

  • Get moving and feed your hope—Where in your body do you feel hope when it’s there? What activities create that same feeling? Dancing, swinging, singing, spinning, running or playing—get your heart rate up and your mood will rise too. Feed yourself a nutritious diet and make sure you get enough vitamin D and fresh air.

  • Make peace with the indignities of aging—From the moment we are born we are getting older and there are physical things we leave behind with each stage. What does each stage allow? If you are walking slower with a toddler or senior, does it give you more time to appreciate your surroundings? If you can’t do up the zipper on those skinny jeans, does it give you a chance to explore a new style? If there is a body part that doesn’t work so well, is there something new you can do with the parts that still do?

These are just a few ideas but what’s worked for you?  What’s still in your way?  If you would like to explore these thoughts further, please feel free to call and consult.


Edna (Teddie) Knowlton Fussell

Registered Psychologist