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How To Be Hopeful

09 Sep 2020 | Bernadette Russell

"Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are" ~ Mary Jean Irion

Hopes For The Future

One morning a few years ago, I took my dog Lola for a walk around the docklands close to where I live. It was cold enough to make miniature clouds of my breath. The trees were fancily dressed in their October best: a rich display of burgundy, mustard and rust, with the sky a forget-me-not blue.

I sat on a bench for a while and watched a flock of geese fly in an arrow over the woods. A man threw a stick for his dog nearby and shouted out, 'Oi! Fetch that, Gizmo!' which made me laugh. The man waved at me and I waved back. On the path beside me, written in childlike handwriting with pink chalk, were the words 'Hello everyone here' plus a smiley face.

It was an ordinary day. It was also utterly, heartachingly beautiful. I thought about the world, and how many countless other incredible places and inspiring people there are, how much there is all around us to generate awe and wonder. There is lots to be excited and joyful about, there is plenty of fun to be had, I thought. I was so grateful to be alive in that moment. I felt extremely lucky, and I enjoyed that feeling. I walked home and thought about how important it was to take time to notice all the good stuff.

Dog In Park

Of course, it's not always possible or easy for us to find the joy in our 'ordinary days'. As adults, most of us have many responsibilities and sometimes they can make finding pleasure in the moment a bit of a struggle. We have to work, look after our families, manage our finances, all that hum-drum day-to-day stuff, before we even begin to consider the bigger picture of the wider world and all its opportunities and challenges. Our jobs, relationships, all the choices we make as we journey through life can be boring as well as exciting, stressful as well as relaxing.

There's no doubt that it can be hard to maintain hope in the midst of the daily grind: when you're squashed onto a train in rush hour crushed up against a stranger's arm-pit, scrolling through pictures of other people on holiday in Lanzarote; when you get the fourth gently patronising rejection in a week for a job you didn't really want anyway; when the bus doesn't stop because the driver didn't see you; when your feet get wet because the roads are full of potholes and you can't afford new trainers; when you're not sure where the money you need for this month is going to come from. And we can sometimes criticise ourselves very harshly when we're feeling run down.

So, it's important that we look at how we might navigate the everyday, 'ordinary' challenges and make hope a part of our daily lives, before we move on to the bigger trials all humans face - such as anxiety, loss and grief - and how we create hope there.

06 Direction - Hope Is Being Able

What can be really helpful in getting through life's little challenges is to identify the specific things that give you a boost of hope. If we can pay attention to what helps us to foster a more resilient and positive attitude in our day-to-day, this can become a kind of bedrock to help to keep us hopeful, whatever comes our way. One thing that really helps me is allowing myself to appreciate the beauty in the world around us, at every opportunity.

Yellow Line

Try This:  EVERYDAY BEAUTY

Make a habit of noticing one beautiful thing every day. This can be as simple as the reflection of streetlights in puddles, an architectural feature of a building you pass frequently, a loved one's smile or laughter, dogs playing in the park.

Once you've noticed it, allow yourself a few moments to enjoy it. I find that these short periods of appreciation and reflection make me feel more hopeful about what's good in the world, especially when I felt a bit overwhelmed. If we can focus on the everyday beauty all around us, if only for a short time, it can give us a breath of respite - a moment of pause to allow our minds to take a step back.

A good way to begin thinking about hope in your everyday is simply by spending some dedicated time considering the things that you find inspiring, that cheer you and put a smile on your face. The more aware you are of what brings you joy, the easier it will be to know what to do when you need a bit of a pick-me-up.

If you find it tough to get started, that's okay. I sometimes imagine hope as a single candle in a massive pitch-black cave - it's not going to show us the whole cave, but it will highlight a few glimmers of detail, enough to help ground us and keep fear at bay. We're not looking for any big 'solutions' in this chapter: hope can be found in the smallest of things. It could simply be the neighbour who looks after an elderly friend, a warm welcome and a cup of tea in your local community centre, or the nettles in your garden covered in caterpillars (because not weeding is a win for both you and nature).

I have listed a few of my hopeful things here, some found closer to home, some further afield. Yours might be completely different: scientific and technological innovations, people, places, works of art, whatever takes your fancy. I've written down what gives me hope, but also why, because it can make our connection to that thing much stronger and help us figure out what hope looks and feels like to each of us as individuals.

  • What: The pianos that are left on the concourse at train stations, free for anyone to play.
  • Why: People have the chance to play and to share their love of music. They give some space and time for strangers to come together and enjoy something beautiful for free.
  • What: Children planting edible playgrounds in their primary schools.
  • Why: Kids have the chance to become more connected to nature and will cherish and protect it better than we have done. They will know how to grow their food.
  • What: The ex-poacher turned wildlife protector I read about in South Africa.
  • Why: Human beings can have the courage and humility to change their minds and their lives. Other people will support their change, and still more people will see that happen and be encouraged by it.
  • What: That nobody knows with absolute certainty what the future holds.
  • Why: It could be wonderful.

Red Line

Try This:  MAKE A HOPE COLLECTION

I found it really useful to gather the things that make me hopeful together in a scrapbook - what I call my hope collection. This way, they can't simply slip away and be forgotten or pushed out by the day-to-day cares we all experience. You may be the kind of person who prefers drawing or taking pictures, doodling or even making audio recordings. We're all different. I'd recommend putting a notebook in your bag or putting a stack of paper and a pen next to your bed, so you can add to it whenever inspiration strikes. I add to my collection a couple of times a week.

Try not to edit yourself or make harsh judgements about your choices - whatever gives you hope is the right thing, and nobody need see them but you. Your hope collection is there for you whenever you need it, to remind you that there is a lot about which to be hopeful.

Allowing yourself to experience hope is a powerful form of self-care, providing you with the courage and strength to carry on, to reach for a brighter future, even on the cloudiest of days.

Htb H Twitter Graphics 13

Bernadette's latest book How To Be Hopeful: Your Toolkit to Rediscover Hope and Help Create a Kinder World is published by Elliott & Thompson.

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