You know that friend who always has a smile on her face?

That friend is me.

So much so that when I’m having an off day and I’m not my usual beaming self, people take notice—and become concerned.

I pride myself on being a glass-half-full kind of person, which makes it particularly frustrating on days when I find myself feeling pretty hopeless.

This is not in my DNA, I tell myself. You shouldn’t feel this way when you have so much to be grateful for.

Admittedly, there is a lot of pressure I put on myself to be the strong, smiling friend. I like being someone friends and family can depend on, but lately I’ve been working on eliminating “should” from my vocabulary and accepting my feelings as they are, not how I want them to be.

But hope isn’t just a fluffy feeling reserved only for children or a catchy slogan for political campaigns. There’s science behind the benefits of having hope.

There’s science behind the benefits of having hope.
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According to hope researcher Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D., “When we’re excited about ‘what’s next,’ we invest more in our daily life, and we can see beyond current strategies.”

In an effort to learn more, I turned to his book, Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others, in which Lopez shares four core beliefs that set hopeful people apart from those who aren’t. Hopeful people lean into the following beliefs:

●︎ The future will be better than the present

●︎ I have the power to make it so

●︎ There are many paths to my goals

●︎ None of them are free of obstacles

Conveniently, these core beliefs can also serve as powerful mantras for when your personal hope cup is running low. So feel free to jot these down on a Post-It Note and stick them to your mirror or laptop next time you need a friendly hope reminder.

I'll break each one down for you.

Future

In Making Hope Happen, Lopez differentiates between optimism (an attitude) and hope as “a belief in a better future and the action to make it happen.”

In a way, hope provides more concrete steps to take in making your goals a reality and it presumes personal accountability—you’re hopeful about the future because of the actions you’ll take to make it better.

The good news: Most of us have this core belief down. “Regardless of age, most people have an optimistic bias, generally believing that tomorrow holds some promise, and that things can change for the better,” Lopez writes.

Power

A key element of hope is agency, which Lopez defines as “our perceived ability to change our lives day to day.” “Agency makes us the authors of our lives,” he writes.

Agency is what makes us feel responsible for our goals, and it’s what fires up our motivation and persistence when the going gets tough. When we trust that we have the power to make things happen or stop them from happening, we can better move through obstacles.

Agency is what makes us feel responsible for our goals.
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If you feel like your hope is running low, it’s helpful to see if there’s a lack of agency at play. I had this happen to me recently.

At the beginning of this year, I set several lofty goals, including landing a book deal. What I did not account for, however, was the agency attached to it. Sure, I would try my hardest, but at the end of the day, the ultimate decision was not mine to make, which is a bit unnerving to admit for a Type A person like me who likes to control situations and outcomes.

So recently I’ve had to reframe my goals to take back my agency.

Instead of “landing a book deal,” now I have a goal to connect with 100 literary agents by the end of the year. The power is back in my hands, and I can take full responsibility for hitting my goal.

ManyPaths

Maybe you want to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company or start your own nonprofit—you may think there’s a tried-and-true blueprint you have to stick to, but the truth is there are many ways to achieve the same goal (take it from a journalist-turned-nonprofit-PR-pro who moonlights as a blogger and freelance writer).

Every time I receive a rejection from a literary agent about my book, I a) take it personally and b) feel like I’ll never get a book deal. (Did I mention I have a tendency to be melodramatic?) In the moments after that initial “no,” I feel hopeless and defeated.

More than one person has asked me about self-publishing and while the stubborn journalist in me desperately seeks the credibility (and validation) that comes with a traditional publisher, I recognize that there are many ways to achieve my goals. By locking myself into one version of my dreams, I could be limiting my success.

As my friend Pedro reminds me all the time, “stay firm in your mission, but flexible in your method.”

Obstacles

This last one’s key. Hopeful people are realistic that the journey might not be smooth-sailing—and they trust that they can navigate it.

Lopez actually sees obstacles as a way to strengthen our sense of hope, not weaken it. “We reinforce our capacity for hope each time we experiment with problem-solving strategies and persist until one works,” he writes.

Hopeful people are realistic that the journey might not be smooth-sailing—and they trust that they can navigate it.
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My other lofty goal for the year was to start a family. Things come pretty naturally to me—and I naively thought getting pregnant would be one of them. Granted, my husband and I have only recently started trying, but I was truly convinced it would happen right away. I was wrong, and I’ve been feeling slightly frustrated (and admittedly a bit jealous of expecting moms walking around with their round bellies).

But then my husband, in all of his kind-hearted wisdom, reminded me that some of our closest friends who are now parents had also struggled with getting pregnant and asked why I thought we would be exempt.

It reminds me of the quote, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” This dose of reality provided me with some much needed perspective and hope that we, too, will someday be parents to a beautiful Black child.

The next time you’re feeling hope slip away, try reminding yourself of these core beliefs.

“People who develop these core beliefs are resourceful,” Lopez writes. “They identify multiple strategies for moving toward their goals. They are realistic because they anticipate and plan for difficulties, setbacks, and disappointments. They are resilient because they know that, if one path is closed, another can be cleared.”

Hope is anything but fluff—it’s power. It might not feel easy at first, but know that it’s something you can practice and strengthen over time.

The best part: It’s contagious. “While only half the population measures high in hope, hope can be learned,” he says. “And the hopeful among us play a powerful role in spreading hope to others.”


Today's recommended meditation:

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