This week I’ve been thinking about hope and optimism. Hope and optimism tend to be used interchangeably therefore I’m going to make life easy and stick to the word hope. Hope is defined as believing the future will be a brighter one and knowing how to make that happen. Research is really clear – hope and psychological well-being are correlated. And I believe that at a time like this, hope is of the utmost importance for our survival, let alone well-being. Having hope is what will get us through!
I want to make something very, very clear. When I talk about hope I’m not talking about blind hope and I’m not talking about ignoring the difficulties in life. This is not an either/or proposition it’s an and proposition. I’m talking about feeling the entire spectrum of feelings AND including hope. However, I’m talking about a realistic hope, one that acknowledges the reality of the situation, enables us to deal with it and looks forward to making the future brighter. Usually this kind of hope is called realistic optimism (remember I’m using the word hope just to make things easier). And has a lot to do with our thoughts (See last weeks posting).
I know these are uncertain times. What’s the future going to look like, will the virus come back, will there be enough testing, will the kids go back to school in the fall, what will that look like, and on and on the uncertainty goes. Even though the future is uncertain it doesn’t mean we can’t have hope. The beauty of hope is, irrespective of what is happening around you, if you are a hopeful person you will always find things to be hopeful about. The beauty of hope that it can happen during the tough times. Actually, at least for me, when things get tough, is when I am most hopeful. Hope is what gets me up in the morning after having had a bad day – the knowledge and excitement that I can make the new day a better one gives me hope. Remember a lot about being hopeful is what you tell yourself, your thoughts.
The beauty of hope is that since it is a belief in a brighter future and in one’s ability to achieve that future, hope prompts a person to action. And action fosters a sense of self-efficacy and self-control and when we feel self-efficacious and in control we feel good. In other words, put in very simple terms, when you are hopeful you act and when you act you tend to feel better.
So how do we have hope? There are many ways to help yourself be hopeful. Your Best Possible Future Exercise was developed by Laura King and has been proven to substantially increase hope. Hope researcher Shane Lopez says that the best way to be a hopeful person is to have hopeful people in your life, according to him hope is contagious. And last but not least, Action for Happiness does a monthly calendar on actions you can take everyday to increase happiness. Their Optimistic October calendar is full of hopeful ideas.
This week I’d like to talk about character strengths. First, I want to remind you that another variable that contributes to our resilience is a sense of self-efficacy. That belief that I can do what I want to do because I know how to get it done. When we feel self-efficacious we feel we can master our environment, we are confident in our ability to get things done. This feeling of self-efficacy tends to make us more resilient.
So our character strengths contribute significantly to a sense of high self-efficacy. According to positive psychology we all have 24 character strengths in varying degrees, however, we tend to commerce in anywhere between 5 to 8 strengths. These strengths are called our signature strengths. They are like our thumbprint, they identify us as who we are. If you were to ask someone who knows you well to paint a verbal picture of you, they would talk about your signature strengths. Our signature strengths have a few identifying qualities. First they come naturally to us, second they energize us and third when used they enable us to be at our best. When we use our signature strengths we tend to do things really well.
When we use our signature character strengths to help us do what we want to do, they help us do it really well. In other words when we deploy our signature strengths, because they energize us and enable us to be at our best, we tend to me more self-efficacious, thus we tend to be more resilient. Unfortunately most of us are more familiar with our weaknesses than we are with our character strengths, let alone our signature strengths. I would like to argue that now is the time to become very familiar with our character strengths and those of our family. Knowing what your signature strengths are allows you to use them intentionally and frequently. I know most people are busier now than before, but finding out what your and your family’s strengths are is a great family activity. It’s also a very nice topic of conversation. And most importantly it will help you to be resilient.
We are seeing people at their best during this time. When we bear witness to awesome acts, we are witnessing character strengths in action. I’ve seen love, kindness, perseverance, leadership, bravery, creativity to name just a few. What character strengths are you using to get you though this difficult time?