Are your spirits flagging, in spite of the spring buds on the trees? It’s been a difficult year, and we could all use a little more hope these days. Here, experts share simple ways to help you rediscover this positive force for lifting your spirits and achieving your dreams.
Send love out.
The hope deficit many of us are struggling with is often rooted in a hidden sense of grief, says expert Sharon Salzberg, one of the world’s leading mindfulness and meditation teachers and author of Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World (Buy on Amazon, $18.31). To bring awareness to her feelings, she leans on one of her favorite quotes: Grief is love that doesn’t have the normal place to land. “I look for that place to land: Who can I direct my love to?” she reveals. “And when I feel less than hopeful, I remind myself, You’re not in charge of fixing the universe tonight.” Simply letting yourself off the hook is the start to rediscovering hope, encourages Salzberg.
Let go, let in.
To melt the stress that builds up when optimism is scarce, just let go and let in, urges expert Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Senior Fellow of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and best- selling author of Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness (Buy on Amazon, $12.69) and Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (Buy on Amazon, $12.19). “Let go of feeling bad by taking a deep breath and releasing the tension in your body. Take a second breath and let in something that brings you comfort, like petting your cat.” This super-quick breathing exercise immediately grounds you.
To spark a sense of forward momentum, picture a dynamic image, advises Salzberg. “I’ve always loved the Statue of Liberty — her sense of compassion and belonging,” she says. “When I picture her, I get that sense of hope, the feeling of taking a first step.” Your visualization can be anything from your grandbaby walking to the image of a sunrise. “Anything that evokes striving.”
Name small hopes.
Simply using the word “hope” triggers can-do optimism. “Research shows ‘hope’ resonates on a more meaningful level than the word ‘goal,’” reveals expert Denise Larsen, Ph.D., director of Hope Studies Central, the only research center devoted to the study of hope in everyday life, at the University of Alberta. Larsen encourages making a list of 10 achievable “tiny hopes.” “I had a client in her 50s who wrote that she hopes to take dance lessons, for example, and have lunch with her granddaughter.” Next week, write a new list. Diversifying your “hope portfolio” helps small dreams spark big achievements.
Look for the helpers.
Mr. Rogers’ advice to “look for the helpers” is more relevant today than ever. “I consciously follow that advice, and look for helpers, from teachers to frontline workers,” says Salzberg. “I also had a project with a friend where we would send each other one piece of good news a day. I learned a new word this year, ‘doomscrolling’ (the compulsion to look at bad news). I prefer ‘hopescrolling,‘ a treasure hunt for stories that lift you up.”
Create a ‘hope chest’
It’s so helpful to make hope tangible, says Larsen. Just grab a shoebox and place items inside that make you feel hopeful — from a CD of songs you love to a letter from a friend. “Hope is a ‘friend’ to so many other positive emotions — joy, nostalgia, optimism — that once we can touch it and feel it, we welcome a whole new world of possibilities.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.
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