Learning to Hope

Hope is a beautiful word, and one of the most important tools we can apply both in life as well as in counselling. The dictionary defines hope both as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen” as well as “a feeling of trust”. I think both definitions are relevant in describing hope, and I would also argue that both definitions can and do occur simultaneously. We can expect a specific positive outcome and also trust in the world and in our immediate environment that the outcome will in fact come to fruition. Often this means that many things will have to happen all at once – that all parts of a situation will come together to form the dynamic of the whole, and thus, hope is born.

I think it is interesting that hope is not an automatic thing; we are not born with a default mechanism for hope. Instead, it is a learned behavior. As infants, we are born with the innate ability to trust. This trust can either be reaffirmed by our primary caregivers as a good idea and thus, we continue to trust, building our ability to hope – or, the world is seen as mistrustful. When that happens, the idea of hope also diminishes until we are given a reason to re-examine hope. People who are secure in their attachments and are experiencing success in many aspects of their lives often have learned to hope, because they have a growth mindset. Growth and hope work in conjunction with each other, because in order to have hope, one must have the ability to grow, to change.

It is also important to understand that hope does not mean nothing bad will ever happen, or that we will always be successful in everything we do; it more or less means that when something does happen that we were not expecting, we are more resilient and have the ability to recover more quickly. Forming a habit of hope helps to ensure we consistently continue to be resilient so that we can experience success even when things do not go according to the plan. Just as consistency is key in many other areas, consistency is also important in establishing the habit of hope.

We can do this primarily through relationship building, as connection is the foundation of hope. As trust must be established in our early relationships to build hope, it can be practiced consistently in future relationships as well such as with friendships, partnerships, and at work with colleagues. Just as everything has a beginning, hope must also begin somewhere. Hope can be the driving force in re-establishing older relationships or forming brand new ones. In the absence of positive coping strategies, hope can be introduced as the first, and often the most important coping strategy.

The most amazing thing about hope is that it can be used by anyone. Having the capacity to learn and to grow also means that we have the capacity to hope, and we can develop this at any time in our lives, and it can be applied in any situation. Developing the habit of hope means that we can begin to affect change in our lives regardless of our past relationships and connections. There is a reason they say hope floats – it is because there is a light feel to it. When hope is present, the air feels so much clearer than when it is not there.

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