Reality Check: Choosing Hope

When you consider the future, do you see better days ahead? Or are you more likely to think, “Things are going downhill fast”?
Attitude matters. There’s almost a sense of virtue that’s associated with choosing to adopt a positive attitude in the face of troubles. We can overcome; stretch ourselves; dig deep; convince ourselves, “Yes, I can!”
We admire people who overcome obstacles through persistence and positive attitude.
Hope matters, too. It’s one thing to say, “I can buck up and convince myself to develop a positive attitude.” But if it’s a loss of hope that you’re feeling, you may also feel like it’s out of your control. Your wish for hope may not respond to your willpower and determination.
If we lose our sense of hope, it’s difficult to have a positive attitude. Plenty of situations seem almost tailor-made to drive away hope. Illnesses, losses, disappointments, even our own mistakes can get us into a mindset that there’s only worse to come.
Marti’s Mom is slowly succumbing to illness. There is no question as to whether the illness will continue to progress. When Marti thinks about what lies in store, she sees days of worsening conditions, sadness, and more loss of the person she once knew and still loves. She feels hopeless.
Suggesting that Marti adopt a “positive attitude” is hardly helpful. I don’t think there’s any magic formula that will suddenly restore Marti’s sense of hope.
But maybe there are some approaches that could help. One is for Marti to try observation and self-evaluation to see whether she can regain some sense of hope in this difficult situation.
For example, an observation that Marti has made is that whenever she compares the vibrant loving Mom she once knew with the person she sees now, the sadness of the loss crowds out all of her hope. She feels, literally, hopeless.
On the other hand, when Marti forgets those comparisons and happens to have even a tiny happy interaction with her Mom, it’s a hopeful moment. For that moment, the situation seems manageable.
Those moments may not be frequent and they may not last long. Her Mom may have absolutely no memory of them after they do happen.
However, Marti can thoroughly enjoy those moments when they happen. She can also write them in her journal—useful because when you have lost hope, it can be difficult to remember that you’ve ever had good, contented times.
So, Marti learns that she’s more hopeful when she stays in the present as much as possible—not drifting back to an unrepeatable past, nor fretting about a future she cannot predict. That is, to some degree, under Marti’s control.
Her hope is not an unrealistic hope for a past that won’t return, but a hope that there will be more moments when she and her Mom can share enjoyment of each other.
Marti can also choose actions that will help make herself fully available for those happy moments when they do occur. When she gets enough sleep, eats good food, exercises, and welcomes at least some freedom and fun into her life, she is more likely to be able to enjoy happy moments than if she is constantly stressing about a dreaded future.
Marti has no control over so much of the situation. But she does have some control over what she does, what she thinks, what she chooses to focus on. And that could, in turn, help to influence whether she feels any sense of hope at all.
Do you think that hope matters? Or is it just a nice-to-have pleasant feeling?
Have you ever felt a loss of hope? Have you been able to regain a hopeful perspective? What did you do to restore your hope?

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