5 ways to find hope amidst all the darkness.
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” — says Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban. Full disclosure, I am not a Harry Potter fan, however, I am a big fan of J.K. Rowling.
Many of us might not be aware that “Rowling has lived a ‘rags to riches’ life in which she progressed from living on benefits to being named the world’s first billionaire author by Forbes”. Rowling was living on welfare with barely any money to sustain her and her baby daughter while writing the Harry Potter series. Hope and resilience are what made her move forward.
I wrote about resilience in this article, however, resilience and grit only work with hope. Hope is fundamental to our overall well-being. Hope gives us happiness and makes our lives more enjoyable. Hope helps us navigate life’s challenges, cope with crisis, anxiety, depression, and uncertainty, strengthen our bonds with loved ones, and boost our physical and mental well-being.
Hope even provides us the resilience to fight suicidal thoughts. Hope helps us overcome even the darkest of times. History has proved that time and again. Research about holocaust survivors says that it made a significant difference between the people who had hope and those who had none.
“In Auschwitz, when hopelessness overwhelmed me, I’d think of what my mother had told me in the dark, crowded cattle care on our way to prison: We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Just remember, no one can take away what you’ve put in your mind.”
Hope stories are not just limited to World War I and II. When World War II came to an end on September 2, 1945, India was still fighting its independence from the British. India’s battle against oppression by the Persian rulers and Mughals goes a long way, however, that did not take away hope from the Indian freedom fighters. They rather believed in hope, just like the holocaust survivor Edith Eger goes on to write here:
“Hope tells us that life is full of darkness and suffering — and yet if we survive today, tomorrow we’ll be free.”
South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his precious life in prison, but the million-dollar question is — how did he find hope in the most hopeless of situations? It seems that Nelson Mandela was inspired by the writings of Norman Vincent Peale, the man who popularized the concept of positive thinking.
Stories of hope are incomplete without Martin Luther King Jr and the song “we shall overcome, someday”, which became the key anthem of the American civil rights movement. I learned this song as a child in school and I indeed did believe, deep in my heart that hope would help us overcome adversities — that was the power of the song, that was the power of Martin Luther King Jr.
We do not need to associate hope with only bigger worldwide events like the world wars or the pandemic. We may feel hopeless at trying times, like a personal loss of a loved one, loss of a job, disease or disability, uncertainty, loss of love, faith, power, or human connection.
We might not have the power to change our circumstances, however, when we have hope, we have the power to choose our response, we have the power to hold on to hope, to believe that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel.
Now let’s not confuse hope with general optimism. Optimism might be a character trait and most likely not event-dependent. However, hope is an emotion, it is like that ray of sunshine that you hope to see if the cloud clears or the storm stops, even the odds are low.
A study conducted on football fans shows that the fans of poorly performing football teams were pessimistic, yet hopeful that perhaps today is the day when their team scores a victory. On the other hand, fans of top-tier teams were more optimistic because they already have a subjective likelihood of an expected outcome.
Contrary to the belief that hope is a passive emotional state, hope is, fortunately, an action and there are ways you can cultivate it even when it feels elusive.
Remember that Hope is a Choice
This fact is liberating! We can practice being more hopeful by choosing to be more hopeful and an easy way of doing that is by reading other people’s stories of hope.
Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl is an Austrian neurologist, psychologist, and the founder of logotherapy — “a therapeutic approach that helps people find personal meaning in life.” He described how holding on to hope in the concentration camps was a matter of life and death as he states the reason behind a:
“high death rate in Auschwitz during Christmas 1944 to New Year 1945: that prisoners died because they had expected to be home before Christmas. When they realized this was not to be they completely lost hope in life beyond the concentration camp.”
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl writes:
“Whoever was still alive had a reason for hope.”
Gratitude keeps us grounded, even during the darkest of times. This study shows how gratefulness can significantly increase hope and thus happiness. As this article points out: “Thanksgiving (the holiday of gratitude), was born and grew out of hard times. The first Thanksgiving took place after nearly half the pilgrims died from a rough winter and year.”
Expressing gratitude for simple things — like the sunshine, walk in the forest, being close to my loved ones, reading a good book, eating my favorite food, cozying up in my comfortable home, or curling up with my daughter under the same blanket to watch a favorite movie — helps me remember the hard times and fosters my present happiness, which in turn deepens my hope for the future. This enhances my overall sense of well-being.
Visualize a Hopeful You
“You are what you think” — our thoughts and convictions define us and determine our reality. If that be the case, we can change our future by visualizing it. Will some things will happen beyond our control? Yes, for sure. But by changing our thoughts, we change our response. Writer Tony Fahkry writes beautifully in this article on Medium:
“Visualisation is the seed fertilised in the mind, whereby action is the flowering plant that blossoms. One needs the other to manifest your goals and dreams.”
I had this beautiful visualization assignment in my Vertellis journal, where I had to visualize a future me and my environment, perhaps ten years later, with as many details as possible. I pictured myself walking gracefully and confidently by the sea, the breeze of the sea air comforting me. I felt peaceful and tranquil. I saw myself as calm and composed. I am aware that I still cannot control my circumstances, however, that picture stayed with me and gave my life a new meaning, a new direction, and hope.
Use a Physical Symbol of Hope
Sometimes it is more difficult for us to hold onto something intangible like hope during our trying times. A physical symbol is more tangible, something that we can see, perhaps touch or hold. It’s something that tells us that there is life beyond our sufferings.
In Judaism and Christianity, a dove is considered a symbol of hope. The story goes like this: “God once wiped out the world in a massive flood, and only those aboard Noah’s Ark were saved. Once the flood subsided, Noah sent out a dove from the ark to see if it was already safe for them to step out of the ark. When the bird came back dry and with an olive branch in its beak, they knew it was safe to come out. Hence, the dove became a symbol of hope and the ability to start again after an immense tragedy.”
But you don’t have to follow a religion to be able to hope. Hope for me is a plant or a seedling that starts to grow even if the conditions of growth were not right. Hope for me is the sunrise symbolizing a new day, a new start. I live in the Netherlands and sunshine is quite a rare commodity here, so I have set the picture of a sunrise or a painting by my daughter that depicts light and hope as wallpaper on my phone and laptop.
Keep a Journal
Journaling is therapeutic, because “your journal is a friend who listens and doesn’t talk back.” When we write down our stories, our emotions, thoughts, and our feelings, we have the option to look back and see evidence that we made it through the hard times and this shall pass too.
I have been fortunate enough not to be born during any of the world wars, but the pandemic was perhaps the closest that will come to it. I saw death from very close. But as it turns out, I realize each breath is a new hope. My journey of hope will come to fruition when I can kindle the spirit of hope to other people, to you. If you are feeling absolutely hopeless for whatever reason, try and give yourself some time to understand and accept your emotions and remember — you have a choice — to hope.