Each year we experience an oceanic feeling of hope. On New Year’s eve and New Year’s day there is a proliferation of good wishes for a happy new year. One friend describes this as an overdose of ‘wish upon a star, fortune cookie wisdom’. The question is how do we maintain a sense of hope when the euphoria wears off? In this post I explain how we can create a sense of hopefulness by changing two key attitudes.
Positive Psychology over ‘positive thinking’
It is through out attitudes that we explain and shape our perception of the world. So we don’t have to rely on the fleeting euphoria inspired by the symbolism of a brand new start from a brand new year. This is not the deluded philosophy of ‘positive thinking’ that tells us that we create our world through our thoughts. Instead it is the rooted in evidence-based positive psychology. The former is based on a philosophy, the latter is an academic discipline.
How you explain the world shapes your experience of the world
In Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman argues that we maintain our sense of optimism and pessimism through an explanatory style, that is, the way we explain positive and negative events in our lives,
The two attitudes related to hopefulness are:
- Making it permanent – it’ll never end (permanence)
- Making it pervasive – it affects everything (pervasiveness)
Recipe for Hopefulness
- Negative Outcomes: When faced with negative outcomes to events instead of jumping to the premature/automatic conclusion that the situation is never going to end / change and it affects all aspects of your life. Instead, balance out the negative default conclusion by looking for explanations that emphasize the temporary nature of the situation and take stock of other areas of your life not affected by it. For example, don’t think of a bad day at work as the beginning of the end. You may just have been tired rather than ‘all washed up’. If you get knocked back after asking someone out on a date, it’s more likely that you are just not their type or they are not looking to get involved. The aim is to look for a specific explanation rather than a universal one. It’s important not to go beyond the evidence.
- Positive Outcomes: When things go well, the tendency sometimes is to write-off such outcomes as flukes and exceptions to the rule. Instead look for explanations that emphasize things can be enduring and may well spill over into other areas of your life. So rather than writing things off to luck, take stock of the things that you did to bring about the positive results. When someone does accept your invitation it’s not because they are weird, it maybe because they see you have something to offer.
By adopting these hopeful attitudes we embrace the possibility that bad things may get better and good things can endure. It’s not a Pollyanna-rose-tinted glasses approach, rather it balances out a social and cultural bias.We talk about bad news coming in threes but don’t seem to have a standard multi-pack for good news. We are encouraged to indivualize problems rather than to consider social injustice and social inequalities. There is a bias to self-blame.
Keeping a ‘hope’ journal
A helpful way to ensure that we adopt and maintain hopeful attitudes is to keep a journal. It’s also a key strategy that I recommend for getting the most from a self-help book. Hope needs to be nurtured and it’s more difficult to do so purely in our heads. It helps if you can see things in black and white. Like everything else in psychology, the more we practise things, the more deeply ingrained they become. The journal becomes a useful resource in less hopeful times.
Hope is a precursor to courage and confidence building. All begin with a change of attitudes.
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