How to live from a place of hope

Hope is a fleeting concept for many and can seem even more so when faced with a pandemic. UAlberta professor emeritus, registered psychologist and founding member of the Hope Foundation of Alberta Ronna Jevne examines hope and what it means to find it.

Tia Lalani - 3 June 2020

By Ronna Jevne

"[Hope] is a choice. It's a "yes" to life," says Ronna Jevne, UAlberta professor emeritus, registered psychologist and founding member of the Hope Foundation of Alberta. When the conditions for hopelessness are present-like, say, when you're in the middle of a pandemic-that choice and "yes" to life becomes all the more important. (Photo: Zac Durant).

"We are in this together" has become the catchphrase of the pandemic. Someone who is passionate about social justice might strongly argue that we are not in this together equally. Different groups are at risk for different reasons. COVID-19 threatens our life, health, well-being, financial security and future prospects in different ways. While some people are literally alone, others have social supports. While some are financially secure, others are not. While some have strong immune systems, others have compromised capacity to fight illness. Increased levels of anxiety, depression, abuse and use of addictive substances are evidence of the toll of isolation and fear. While some despair, others double their efforts. While some live in fear, others live with hope.

To live from a place of hope, we need to understand more about hope. Hope cannot be x-rayed. It doesn't turn up in a blood test. We know it most acutely by its absence. A day without hope is difficult. A day with it guarantees nothing. Hope is not the same as desire, wishing, coping, resilience or faith. Research has shown that hope is closely allied to meaning and highly correlated with achievement and health. Indeed, it is a unique and powerful phenomenon in our lives.

Nelson Mandala said, "May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears." Indeed, the first step to living life from a place of hope is to make a choice to do so. It is like changing the channel on a television and tuning into a more hopeful channel.

It is beneficial to have a sense of your unique hope. Hopeful people notice what enhances their hope and what diminishes their hope. Hopeful people have a vision of a future in which they are willing to participate. They act in ways which move them towards that vision even under difficult circumstances. Hope encourages us to live with uncertainty as we create that future.

Patience is often needed. There is a saying that if a hope is unfulfilled, it is being refined. Sometimes things that were not possible today become possible tomorrow. Sometimes things that were not possible alone become possible if we act as a collective.

Hope is not only about what we hope for. It is that "yes" to life, that inner experience of believing in ourselves, our future and our communities. You might think about hope as having aspects of both "goal" and "soul".

The feeling that someone is there for us is particularly significant when the conditions for hopelessness are present. Susan Pinker in The Village Effect establishes beyond doubt that the psychological and physical benefits of face-to-face contact are staggering. In a time of social and physical distancing, we are called on to "be there" for each other in new ways.

The quality of our encounters matter. It matters if we reach out, even in small ways. It matters if we speak of potential rather than of doom. Adversity is to be expected in life. It matters if we believe in our ability to weather adversity. It matters if we look at adversity through the lens of hope, asking ourselves, "where is the hope in this situation?" History has powerful examples of individuals, families, communities and nations confronting challenge with courage and vision.

Hope doesn't ask you to deny or dismiss fear. It asks us to co-exist with uncertainty. The pandemic is your opportunity to ask questions. What enhances or diminishes my hope? What is my hope story? What is my preferred vision of the future for myself and others? What will I do today to strengthen and share my hope? If my hope is low, to whom will I reach out? What small step might I take to make myself and my community a more hopeful place? It is a choice. It is the "yes" to life.

We are in this together, despite inequities, despite our differences.

Ronna Jevne, Professor Emeritus, Psychology, University of Alberta. Founding Member of Hope Studies Central. This column was originally published in the Camrose Booster on May 26, 2020.