Hope is optimism. It is based on our expectation and desire for positive outcomes to situations in our lives and the world around us. Hope can be quickly eroded, and it can be built. Many people lose hope and simultaneously lose the will to live, while others work hard to create a sense of hope and ultimately find their way to achieving their goals and peace at the same time.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics,1
- Over two in five Australians aged 16-85 years (43.7%) had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life.
- One in five (21.4%) had a 12-month mental disorder.
- Anxiety was the most common group of 12-month mental disorders (16.8%).
- Almost two in five people (39.6%) aged 16-24 years had a 12-month mental disorder.
Approximately 20% of Australians met the criteria for suffering some form of mental illness in the previous 12 months and considering the pandemic, the remaining 80% of our population may have found themselves experiencing varying levels of exhaustion, feelings of abandonment, isolation, loss, grief, relationship problems, unemployment, and financial crisis. We must wonder how one continues to find hope and the will to live amidst the inevitability of suffering. Unfortunately, the perceived loss of hope can quickly turn a crisis into a suicidal crisis. The hard truth is that many lose hope and the will to live, with approximately 65,300 Australians attempting suicide every year.
Today, we live in a world that is safer than it has ever been, and we are more prosperous than humans have ever been at any other time in history. Yet we crave more, more money, more material possessions, more freedom, and more time. Despite what we have, we still “hope” for an even better life. Unfortunately, this yearning for more and unappreciation of what we’ve got is naturally accompanied by disappointment. Ironically, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the safer and wealthier a person is, the more likely someone is to commit suicide. We are living in the age of entitlement and plenty in a world where people are also becoming increasingly self-centred and narcissistic. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is rare, affecting approximately 1 percent of the population of which between 50 and 75% are men. However, studies indicate that narcissism is increasing in Western societies in both men and women and has been referred to as a narcissism epidemic. A massive decline in empathy also accompanies the disturbing increase in narcissism. Reports show that levels of empathy fell globally by a whopping 48% between 1979 and 2009. Interestingly, the decrease in human empathy has occurred at a time where we are more interconnected than ever before. As technology continues to revolutionise our lives with 24/7 connection to the global community, people are feeling more isolated, lonely, and angry. By nature, Narcissists only hope for the best for themselves and demonstrate a complete lack of empathy for another person’s feelings, wants and needs. Unfortunately, the increase in narcissistic tendencies means that numbers of victims of narcissistic abuse are also increasing, many of whom play a game of cat and mouse with hope for years.
So how can we find hope?
How do we build hope, and how do we hold on to it when it seems that the odds are against us? Harvard’s “Human Flourishing Program” published a study which found that people who demonstrated hope had better physical health, positive health behaviours, strong social connections and enjoyed a longer life. The study also found that a strong sense of hope also led to fewer chronic health problems, fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression and reduced risk of developing cancer. There’s plenty of advantages to finding and nurturing hope, so it’s worth the effort to try.
Cultivating Hope through Self-Reflection, Self-Care, and Self-Respect.
We are not born with hope; we must learn to nurture it throughout our lives and more so through the hard times. Some people manage to stay hopeful even in the face of massive adversity, whereas another will lose faith and hope completely. Self-reflection is a wonderful tool that can help us redirect our focus to the good things in life. By reflecting on a situation that is troubling us, we can choose whether to focus on the negatives or turn our attention to the positives. When we focus on how and why things have worked against us, we are easily lost in the negative emotions that crush any hope. Alternatively, we can choose to focus on the positives in our life, our loved ones, friendships, and our qualities. Our humanness and ability to learn from our experiences is where we become formidable. Hardship, whether in health, wealth and poverty, relationship problems, abuse, unemployment and the like delivers the cruellest lessons during which we must dig deep and power through every day. Even when we are feeling utterly broken, we must persevere. We have no choice but to be resilient if we are to survive.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What is there to be thankful for today?
- How can I grow as a person because of this experience?
- Can I use my experience to help someone?
- How would it make me feel to be able to help someone?
A focus on gratitude and appreciation will help you find hope and see the good things that you already have in your life. We owe it to ourselves to cut ourselves some slack. Life can be tough but take some time to look at your strengths and qualities and realise how amazing you are. Remind yourself of the difficulties you’ve already overcome, and then remind yourself that you are more capable than you realise.
One of the best ways to find hope is to help others. It is inevitable that when we lose faith in humanity, that we also lose hope in our own lives. By helping others through difficult times, we build faith in the kindness of people because on some level; we understand that we are all one and the same. Our faith in human kindness increases when we extend a helping hand, and so does our hope for the future. Some of the happiest people report a greater sense of well-being and enjoy a better outlook on life when they feel they contribute to the betterment of humanity. So, when hope eludes you, and you are feeling down on life seek help and then hold out a helping hand to others and light the flame of hope for yourself and other people at the same time.
1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2020-21). National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing. ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-study-mental-health-and-wellbeing/latest-release.