How to find, keep and build hope

    As with any skill, you need to practise

    By Stephanie Bailey, ’10 BA(Hons), on May 7, 2020


    Photo: Getty Images

    During one of your many walks in recent weeks, you may have noticed something new pop up in your neighbourhood. And I’m not talking about the budding tulips. It’s the inspirational messages painted on sidewalks and plastered in windows. Residents across the country have taken to lifting the spirits of passersby amid the coronavirus pandemic by sharing slogans like “We’re in this together” or “Not today, COVID-19.”

    Known as “hope graffiti,” this is just one of many ways to build and spread hope in good times and bad, says Denise Larsen, ’88 BA, ’92 BEd, ’95 MEd, ’99 PhD, registered psychologist and head of the UAlberta’s Hope Studies Central.

    “What do you notice about how many of us are responding to COVID?” Larsen asks in a recent On Demand webinar about hope research. “We’re witness to many, many acts of hope. Even the physical distancing we’re all engaged in ... is a collective act, or social act, of hope.” 

    Hope, as Larsen defines it, is the ability to envision a future in which we wish to participate. And, as we’ve seen in the face of COVID-19, there is no shortage of hope worldwide. From opera singing on balconies to collectively applauding health workers daily, acts of hope have blossomed in unexpected and moving ways across the globe. 

    “It’s in times of difficulty that we often become most aware of hope,” Larsen says. “We become acutely aware that we’re short on hope or we seek it. Or we become particularly aware of the precious sources of hope in our life.” 

    It can be comforting to remember that hope is something we can practise and get better at. For those of us looking to cultivate more of it in our lives, here are some tactics, developed by Hope Studies Central and backed by decades of their research in classrooms, hospitals and communities. 

    Begin to notice where hope is in your life: Be alert to your feelings of hope and, conversely, times when your hopeful attitude is threatened. The tiniest thing can spark hope: walking into a family member’s kitchen, the smell of cookies baking, a kind word. When we make a conscious decision to orient ourselves towards hope, we find more of it.

    Challenge yourself to find hope in your day: Make it a mission to find things that represent hope for you every day. Or enjoy a “hope walk,” where you take photos of 10 objects that symbolize hope for you. With practice, you’ll become better at remembering to focus on hope.

    Find stories of hope from your past: Look at photos and identify the ones that give you hope. Tell the stories that go with them. Finding evidence of hope in our past reminds us it’s possible in the future.

    Get creative and share hope: Why not write an inspirational message on the sidewalk or post a hopeful note in your window? Find creative ways you can spread hope in your community. 

    Keep reminders of hope nearby: For example, what image is on your screen saver? What does it symbolize for you? What image might you choose? Or try your hand at making a collage, in which you compile images that symbolize hope.

    Identify a personal strength: Then tell a story to a supportive friend about how you know that you have this particular strength. This exercise reminds you that you are equipped to deal with the struggles you face.

    Reframe your thinking: Think about what’s most important to you today. Acknowledge the difficulties you face, and consider the future in ways that highlight your strengths and the possibilities in your situation. 

    Identify your hope heroes: Who symbolizes hope for you? What makes you consider them that way? What have you learned from them?

    Surround yourself with hope: Choose to spend time with people who lift you up and help you see your strengths and abilities.

    Break the silence: If you’re feeling hopeless or uncertain, tell someone. Choose someone who will listen well and who believes in you. 


    Read more about hope research in the Spring 2020 issue of New Trail, available in June. You can also check out Denise Larsen’s On Demand webinar “Finding Hope in Bad Times and Good” and the Hope Studies Central website. Find other hope exercises in the book Finding Hope: Ways to See Life in a Brighter Light (2nd ed.), by Ronna Fay Jevne, ’70 BEd, and James E. Miller.

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