Marcus hopes he would get a deer this hunting season.
Travis hopes he would get the promotion he’s been working to get.
Damien hopes the holidays would go better this year than they have in the past.
All three men hoped for something they don’t currently have. But what does it mean to hope?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, to hope refers to having a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will also admit that hoping generally means that we will also take some action, if possible, to realize our hopes. For instance, Marcus can make sure his equipment is in good repair and he has a favorable hunting location. Travis has already been working toward gaining the promotion. Damien can consider what he might do differently in order to improve the holidays for his family. The point is, we can do things to make our hopes a reality.
The same holds true for being or becoming a more hopeful person. You can choose to do things that will help you to have a more hopeful outlook on life, even if you are a “glass-half-empty” kind of person.
Generally speaking, humans are programmed to notice things that are wrong more than they are to notice good, positive things. While noticing potential threats may have kept our ancestors from being eaten by lions, tigers and bears, this same sort of vigilance can stand in the way of our modern-day sense of contentment and well-being. For this reason, most of us will benefit from being intentional about noticing 3–5 things every single day for which we are thankful. This can be as simple as being grateful for a hot shower, flush toilet and hot coffee on one day and a faithful dog, smiling child and warm hug on another. The point is to notice, and perhaps even write down, the many good things about one’s life.
Let others know what you like, admire, respect or are thankful for in them. Do this by keeping a pad of sticky notes and leaving at least one sticky note a day in a place where they can see it. For example, tell your 8-year-old daughter, “I like the way you played with your younger brother,” and leave the note on her pillow. Let your mate know you appreciate the clean laundry by leaving a note on the bathroom mirror. Tell your teenager you appreciate the way he mowed the grass. The point is to recognize and reinforce the positive things you see in people for whom you care. If you do, these positive things are more likely to occur. And it’s especially important and helpful to do when you want to help your child develop good habits.
The research is clear. Those who give to others in some way experience greater joy and more satisfaction than those who receive. If you want to remain hopeful and even happier, find a way to serve others in a meaningful way. Spend time with a lonely neighbor. Rake your neighbor’s leaves. Make a small home repair for someone who is unable to do it themselves. Take your child along and teach him or her the joy that comes from giving to others.
Let’s face it. Hopeful people tend to be happier people—people we want to be around. Some, by virtue of their genetics, have a sunnier disposition, but everyone can increase their level of hopefulness by committing to practicing hopeful habits on a regular basis. It is possible to practice one’s self into becoming a more positive person.
Dr. Jennifer L. Baker is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is also the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.