Lately the word hope has been rolling around in my brain.
I am a social worker, psychotherapist, professional coach, and activist. I live on a farm in the drought-stricken, fire-prone West. I read about heartbreak in the news every day. And the wind hasn’t stopped blowing for months. So hope, as you can imagine, is a very big deal to me. It is my currency. It is my “why.”
It is also the thing in my life that has been the most challenged lately.
It’s a tricky little thing, hope. Most of the definitions out there make it seem like a synonym for optimism and positivity. Social media is rife with memes telling us to have hope, be positive, and if we somehow can’t manage that, if what we feel is closer to anger, sadness, confusion, there’s likely a product, offer, or yoga outfit on our feed that will make us feel better.
But what if hope needs us to feel those feelings we try to push away? The sadness we feel when we hear about tragedy or experience hardship or loss? What if those feelings are the springboard for hope itself?
Psychologist Charles Snyder believed the difference between hope and optimism was this: hope contains “practical pathways to an improved future.” Optimism is positive thinking, but is passive. In other words, hope is active-goals, action, movement. The antidote to overwhelm. The foundation of hope.
While it is true that just five minutes consuming news or doom scrolling online can make us believe that there is little reason to hope, I don’t believe we have the luxury of giving up. We need hope in order to raise our kids well and set them loose in the world. We need hope in order to change our health for the better, to make our communities safer and more livable. Hope is necessary to start that new business, finish that novel, change our family’s financial future, and positively impact the health of our planet for generations to come.
But like I said, hope is a tricky little thing.
It is an active endeavor and requires skill. It is the belief that something better IS possible. It is the desire and search for a future good. It is the acknowledgement that what is happening right now must change. It is possessing the agency and willingness to roll up our sleeves, become visible, and commit. It is being present, letting ourselves feel, and then being moved to act. Indeed, it is one of the ways our species has survived.
Whatever the change you seek, whether personal, national or global, whatever “why” you identify, the key is that you must show up. Christopher Reeve said, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible.”
What are you going to choose today?