Experiencing Hope with Both Your Head & Heart

Oct 15, 2021

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”

— Carl Bard

In the wake of a great tragedy, crisis, or turmoil, no matter the degree or scope, we have a spectacular tendency to hold onto hope.

So let’s explore what hope actually is, and how it works.

I learned from Dr. Shane Lopez, a leading positive psychologist whose specialty was the study of hope, that hope is both affective and cognitive. That is, it contains elements of both emotion and logic. Both our heads and hearts are involved when we feel hopeful.

Hope produces positive feelings, such as optimism, but is sustained by a clear-eyed assessment of what is possible, not blind faith.

In hope, there is a reason to believe. This reason is not proof—we know by now that there are no guarantees when it comes to surviving a crisis—but a set of circumstances, principles, and experiences that provides glimmers (and eventually full rays) of light.

Hope has fertile soil in which to germinate when the fields of stability, trust, and compassion have been cultivated. These give us a reason to believe in a thriving future.

We don’t need to cling blindly to optimism (though we sometimes have our flaws of toxic positivity), but rather reach out to the future with the reason and belief that not will always be as it is now.

We can “borrow hope” from each other.

The other incredible thing about hope is that we can share it and pass it around through connection.

Reading or hearing about what others around you are going through can result in a better grasp on hope for yourself-- Especially when you can directly relate to the crisis, and especially if they are in the same or further stage of the grieving and healing process as you.

For example, in my own journey with grief and healing, I shied away from my usual fiction books. Instead, I found endless relief in biographies of historical figures who had suffered great pain yet lived rich lives of growth and contribution.

I especially closely followed Sheryl Sandberg, who lost her husband, as her mourning timeline paralleled mine. I absorbed every phrase of heartache and hope she offered.

I could see glimmers and rays of hope through her experience, even though I couldn’t always see them by myself.

And eventually, just as I had borrowed hope from the testimonies of others who had endured a great loss, I realized that sharing my own story could provide comfort and assurance to someone in the early days of their own difficult journey.

… Which is one of the reasons you’re reading this right now.

I love the saying, “In coming together, we divide the sorrow and multiply the joy.” Although it’s easy to withdraw when we are struggling, connection is what we need. And when it comes to hope, generously sharing with one another is the surest way for it to grow...

This is a modified re-telling of a few pages from Chapter 13 of my book Never Waste a Crisis. The rest of that chapter explores exactly how we can embody “doing less” and “being more.”

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