A long time ago, I memorized this part of the poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all.
I’ve often used it to provide comfort to friends and family in times of grief, to clients in times of personal suffering and to people in psychiatric institutions. It is a deep and meaningful perspective on what hope offers us. We all have that “thing with feathers” within us. We all have the capacity to feel hope, to think positively in tough times and to be future-minded in setting goals.
Research shows that our strength of hope is made up of two important elements—think of these as the will and the way. The will is our motivation and our belief we can reach a goal. The way is our ability to come up with options to get that goal (e.g., recovering from a problem, accomplishing a task or life goal or making a challenging decision).
Of the 24 character strengths, it is uncommon to have the strength of hope among our top 10 strengths. And, in study after study, it is one of two strengths that is most aligned with happiness. The good news is we can build up hope and reap its many benefits—physical, mental and social.
Here are some tips from the science of positive psychology to help you start flexing your hope muscle!
- Visualize your best possible self one year from now. This might be your best self in a relationship, at work, in your community or just everyday life. Consider how to use your highest character strengths to reach your best possible self.
- Set a goal you would like to accomplish. Boost your hopeful thinking by writing down at least three ways to reach your goal, as well as the many reasons why you can reach it.
- Journal about one good event and one bad event in your life each week. Consider why the good events will last and how they relate to the actions you take. Then consider why the bad events will pass, why they are limited in their effect and why you aren’t completely to blame.