When we find ourselves in the darkest days of the year, many of us can find it challenging to harness the hope of the new year. It’s cold and gray and also dark outside, and our spirits can feel a bit dim, too. Many of us, when we think about the idea of “hope” think of a glimmering light, some possibility of good things happening in the future. It can seem like a hard to pin down emotion, slipping through our fingers— here one day, gone the next. When we’re suffering from depression, loneliness, pain, boredom, or just feel like we’re in a funk, what can we do to feel hopeful?
It may be a comfort to you to learn that “hope” is more than a warm emotion. Hope is better understood as a cognitive process that can be defined in steps. And the best news of all—hope is learned! So we can practice the thinking process of hope and become better and better at it.
Researchers C. R. Snyder, Kevin Rand, and David Sigmon outlined a model for hope made up of three parts: goals, pathways, and agency.
We experience hope when we
- Goals: Set attainable goals and have a sense of direction. “I know where I’m headed.”
- Pathways: Work toward finding practical pathways toward our goals. Stay adaptable and know disappointment may come along the way. “I might have to try a Plan B or C along the way, but I’ll figure out a way.”
- Agency: We believe in ourselves. “This might be hard, but I can do this!”
Can you think of a person you consider particularly scrappy and persistent, someone who was able to rise above difficult life circumstances? They probably didn’t do it by holding tight to a fleeting feeling. Look at the steps above and see if you recognize that resilient person you know. While emotions do play an important supporting role in experiencing hope, the positive emotions come as we recognize our progress toward our goal (no matter its twists and turns), and this helps fuel more positive emotions along our way.
Understanding hope is a way of thinking and not just a lot of fluff helps us take the reins on our life. Instead of feeling hopelessness, which is akin to powerlessness, we realize we have the ability to create hope for ourselves on the pathway to change.
If you are looking at the new year in this dark winter and wondering how you can have hope, begin by imagining goals for yourself. Maybe it’s to make a new friend, do a few more activities, read that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand. Maybe you’ve been meaning to feel more connected to people you love by writing letters or want to take a class and learn something new. Perhaps you just want to listen to more music, take more walks, be more active. All of these can improve the quality of our lives.
Write down your realistic goals and start thinking of doable pathways. If you struggle along the way, you can know you’re on your way and in a normal part of the process. Talk with your neighbors about their goals, and remind one another that you can do this! We encourage you to ask for help as you find your way. Our mission here at Fieldstone Communities is for senior living to be truly vibrant and joyful, so if you have a particular goal or interest you want to pursue, talk with your community’s life enrichment director. They might be able to create just the opportunity you’re hoping for!
It’s important to know that if you are experiencing sadness or loss of interest in things you once enjoyed, you may be suffering from depression. Depression is a common, serious medical illness that affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. While serious, it is also treatable, so don’t hesitate to seek help.
If you think you have depression, please share with someone you trust, or if you are a resident, share with a member of the nursing team or the Executive Director. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255. The crisis line provides free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
Senior living communities can be a warm, wonderful hub full of companionship and engagement—especially through the grayest season. We’re looking forward to a new year with opportunities for enjoyment built into each day. It’s our privilege to provide excellent service and care and to share a true home with you and your loved ones.
Hand over hand, we can create our own life stories and find more joy and possibility throughout the year together. We’ll leave you words from the poet Emily Dickinson, who understood hope can be a constant for us.
Here is an excerpt from her poem on hope:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
Wishing you a bright and hopeful new year.