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Finding What Gives Us Hope

Updated: Jun 12, 2022

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Desmond Tutu

Life may look bleak these days as we focus on a nasty pandemic and uncivil politics. Our nerves can feel on edge. We can become angry and depressed. Nevertheless, it seems that some undefeatable part of us may still be active, stirring around…on a crazy quest, looking for light, and finding…hope.

I noticed myself finding a flicker of light a few weeks ago when I asked a regular sort of question to a friend who helps me clean my house. “Anything new with you?” I yelled down the stairs to her as she dusted.

“Well, yes. I found out that I am a good person,” my friend replied. “Stop. Pay attention here,” something whispered inside me.

My cleaning friend, Sarah, (not her real name) is dealing with an aging mother who periodically seems to have lost some of her wits. Sarah has unsuccessfully tried to correct her mother, show her the error of her thinking. Both have ended up feeling distressed and angry.

To turn things around, Sarah decided to put on an act. She pretended to be patient and to act out what a “good person” would do in her situation. She listened to her mom with feigned interest and compassion. She made a good meal each day for her mother. After a few days, my friend realized it was no longer an act. She was transforming into the person she was pretending to be. Sarah felt happy about how she was behaving. She respected herself. She left her interactions with her mother feeling upbeat.

As my friend looked up at me, her eyes sparkled as she shared her internal dialogue. “I said to myself, you know, Sarah, you are a house cleaner, you basically live with your parents – not big accomplishments, but look,” her eyebrows shoot up in delighted surprise, “you are a good person!”

I light up too. I know a little bit about how it feels to be in tough situations and to harshly judge myself. Hope becomes more evident for me as I note not only Sarah’s transformation, but also the resourceful path she took, the tools she used. She imagined, she pretended. Her approach reminded me of the C.S. Lewis quote that goes something like - Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. When you are behaving as if you love people, you will presently come to them.

Her story opens possibility for me and maybe for you. Sarah is not a guru on high. She’s a real person. Perhaps we can even use a approach and act ourselves into becoming the good people we aspire to be.

People both individually and collectively thrive when they have hope. Hope enthuses, engages, activates us. According to psychologists, hope is more predictive of success than intelligence. Hope is intimately connected to the good life. Little hope, little happiness.

After the conversation with Sarah, hope popped up again. I had breakfast with two women who have been friends for decades. Both are strong-willed adventurers. They have skied together, traveled together, partied together. These two women are deeply committed to their political views AND they are different. One is a Democrat, one is Republican.

“How do you do this?” I kept asking them over and over in different ways. “How do you maintain this strong friendship when you have such deeply held, different, political beliefs?” My question only led to stories and more stories of their fun and misadventures.

Finally, one of the women said, “My life would be crap without her.” (I have altered the wording slightly, you can use your imagination.)

The other smiled and replied, “No matter what happens I know if I needed her, she’d be by my side in a minute.”

The two friends offered me other tips for maintaining closeness despite different political views. One pointed out that her wide travels and living in various cultures probably helps her accept people with different values.

“Stop. Pay attention here,” something whispers inside me again. “Forget what you see on the news and social media. It is possible. We can live together…have fun adventures, think differently, be by each other’s side when trouble hits.”

We all have our own ideas about what hope is and how we find it. Generally, we don’t need it defined, but if we had to, we might say it’s believing that good outcomes are possible in the future. Researchers tell us in general our hope is built when we see realistic paths to those desirable goals, and when we believe we have the resources to travel those paths.

For some times can be bleak. It can also be, however, a period we devote to finding light and building our individual and collective hope. We can notice those whispers inside us to stop and pay attention. What inspires us, makes us light up a little bit or a lot? Do we find a stirring of hope at sunrises each morning, or in observing the miracle of seeds growing into plants in our window-sill herb garden, or in watching kids or animals joyfully play, or in seeing people do acts of kindness?

All those things lift my spirits, but what gives me steadfast hope are the real people I know – the ones I see who are using their ordinary human resources to travel solid paths to the good life.

Finding the things that give us hope is not only a way to become more successful and happier, but also a fun adventure. You might want to play along. Notice the books, the movies, the music, the activities, the places, the people, the tools, the stories that give you a spark of light and hope.

How might you Journey to the Good Life by finding what gives you hope?


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