Hope, I think most of us would agree, feels wonderful. But did you know?…
On a physical level, having a hopeful outlook can, according to evolving research, literally help our bodies safeguard and heal from illness and injury.
On an emotional level, feeling hopeful can help predispose our outlook for positive confirmation bias (you feel good and imagine the world is full of possibility and so you begin to unconsciously look for evidence of this goodness and possibility), potentially leading to real-world positive outcomes.
On a spiritual level, it’s possible that feeling hope can help connect individuals to some grounding, holding spiritual force of their own construct, helping them to feel less alone, less isolated, and more secure in their existential existence. On the other hand, loss of hope can have equally-as-powerful negative effects.
On a physical level, we have to remember that the brain is plastic and that we literally create and reinforce neural pathways when we think or act habitually. This can be both a positive and a negative force, depending on how one thinks and acts. For those who have lost hope and have, perhaps, fallen into rhythms of chronic negative thinking, neural structures in the brain are reinforced leading to a cascade of further physical, emotional, and spiritual effects including rumination, resentment, chronic negativity, and even depression.
Loss of hope and the resultant physical, emotional, and spiritual effects are not a conscious choice most of us choose when we’re going through a tough time or life crisis.
Loss of hope can be gradual or sudden, but rarely is it chosen or willingly let go of.
But still, for so many of us, hope can be hard to find when we’re walking through a dark night of the Soul.
So how do we find hope in a life crisis?
We look for the smallest example of goodness and meaning we can possibly find.
When all hope seems lost, when it feels like the world is going to end and you can’t imagine your mind and body tolerating the pain or anguish you may be going through for one moment longer, you must consciously, actively choose to look for the smallest possible example of what is good or what is meaningful.
If your child is in the hospital, can you find even a little goodness or hope in the kindness her nurse treats her with?
Can you find even one reason why it might be a good thing your spouse has filed for divorce? Can you force yourself to look for hope and nurture these thoughts? And if you can’t in this very moment, could you imagine that being possible a little while later?
By forcing yourself to look for good, meaningful, and hopeful parts of your experience (no matter how small!) and continuing to do this over and over and over again (much in the same way you might force yourself to gratitude journal your way out of a very bad mood), you nurture the feeling of hope and feed it in the same way kindling might further feed a spark into a fire.
And certainly, we don’t need to be going through a crisis or troubling time in our lives to make the active nurturance of hope a practice!
By making a practice of nurturing hope – of positive expectation, of trust in possibility – we can feed that part of us that’s longing to feel good, grounded, and connected to life.