How we approach challenging situations, especially when they seem to pile up, can make all the difference in our health and wellbeing. One not-so-secret weapon, hope, just might be the key to greater happiness and less anxiety. But, how do you build hopefulness in a constructive and meaningful way?
When times are tough, excessive optimism or toxic positivity from others can be off-putting and annoying. That, however, is not the same as authentic hope. Unlike “cheerleading,” which comes from external sources and may even be harmful because it can make you feel worse, true hopefulness comes from within. Statements such as “You’re fine,” “You seem to be handling the situation well,” or “Don’t worry, you will be okay,” are typically well-intentioned, but because they are other people’s judgment of how you are doing or feeling, they can be easy to dismiss. They can also have the effect of communicating the exact opposite sentiment than what the words themselves imply. Hopefulness, on the other hand, is the feeling, knowledge or certainty that you have inside telling you that, “Yes I’m capable of dealing with this using what I have in hand,” and, “Yes, I have what it takes to go through this difficult time.”
3 Steps to Hopefulness
Keiko Yoneyama-Sims, MS, LMFT, therapist at Maria Droste Counseling Center, explains that creating hopefulness is a three-step process. The first step is to find your strengths, no matter how small. “Choose tiny achievements if necessary to keep moving forward,” she advises. “Your strengths or gifts can be difficult to identify if you are not used to expressing positive feelings about yourself. If this is the case, start with something small. Even something that seems unimportant can turn out to be greatness.”
To find your strengths, Keiko recommends looking at what is going on in your life now. What do you do that is useful or that you are pleased with? Perhaps it is as simple as getting up and making your bed every morning, or making sure your kids have breakfast and are prepared for school. “You may want to say that everything is bad. It is important, however, to acknowledge what you have done that has been helpful for yourself or others. Difficult times and turmoil are part of your life, but not the entirety of your life,” Keiko says.
The second step is to acknowledge and celebrate those strengths. Resist minimizing what you have done, for example by saying that it is nothing. Avoid comparing your accomplishments to those of others who you perceive as doing big things in their lives, or by saying what you’ve done well is so small compared to the immensity of what you are dealing with. “It is important to celebrate and appreciate your accomplishments in your own way because doing so gives you courage and also helps you see that even in a dire situation there is something you can do to make things better for yourself, for your family or for your situation,” Keiko says. “Simply taking the time and space to enjoy a cup of coffee can help you keep going. It might not be worthy of a Facebook or Instagram post, but even the smallest details can help keep your life on track.”
Some people might feel these two steps are quite enough to feel hopeful and allow them to see that they are capable of moving forward with their life or to survive a stressful situation, Keiko says. If you would like to go further, deepening your understanding of your capabilities and making your life better, however, consider the third step as well: Determine what more you can do with the strengths and gifts you have. After you acknowledge what you are currently doing and celebrate your role in making things happen in your life, you may find it helpful to see if the things that you have been able to do can be applied to improve another part of your life. For example, building on the fact that you make your bed every morning, you might find other small organizational habits to incorporate throughout the day that will make your life less stressful.
People find different ways to feel hopeful and to gain the strength necessary for dealing with day-to-day stressors, as well as with unexpected events. Maria Droste has many therapists trained in a variety of techniques for helping people with various issues. To learn more or to connect with a therapist, contact Maria Droste Access Center at 303-867-4600.
***Thank you to Maria Droste therapist, Keiko Yoneyama-Sims, MS, LMFT, for contributions to this blog.***