Just as we were limping back to normalcy, our lives were again put on pause. As the brutal second wave of Covid-19 engulfed India, a collective malaise spread across the country. While many people have had to contend with illness and loss, the relatively lucky ones were locked in their homes again. And lockdown woes seem never-ending as our government prepares for the imminent third wave. With shops shuttered and businesses being put on hold again and again, it feels as if the nation is experiencing a ‘depression,’ not just economically but psychologically as well.
In these bleak times, when the future seems grim and uncertain, we may stand to gain by cultivating “learned hopefulness”. Instead of falling prey to negativity and its concomitant emotions, we may nurture hope so that the present pandemic is not followed by an epidemic of psychological issues.
Making hope a habit
According to psychologist, Dan Tomasulo, we can intentionally promote our wellbeing by practising certain habits. In his book, Learned Hopefulness: The Power of Positivity to Overcome Depression, he provides seven strategies for enhancing our hope after surveying the psychological literature. As there is no unifying theory of hope, Tomasulo provides different tools to inject more hope into our lives.
He argues that people with high levels of hope believe they are in the driver’s seat of their lives, and are filled with zest to accomplish goals they have chalked out for themselves. When they encounter obstacles, they exhibit resilience and resourcefulness by seeking out alternative paths. So, instead of waiting for hope to knock at your door, you can bring hope into your life, however stark and stormy it may seem in the moment. When you make hope a habit and don’t let yourself succumb to the doomsayer in your head, you have acquired learned hopefulness.
The 7 strategies of learned hopefulness
1. Look for possibilities
The first habit of hopefulness entails seeing possibilities even in the face of roadblocks. Instead of being stymied by setbacks, how can you maneuver around them? Develop what psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset” wherein you believe that abilities, talents, skills, habits and personalities are not set in stone but amenable to change. Whereas a fixed mindset compels you to dwell on deficiencies and limitations, a growth mindset impels you to focus on possibilities and progress. Failure is not the end of the road but a reminder that you may have to course correct.
2. Focus on your blessings
Next, Tomasulo coaxes you to look out for “beauty, benefits, and blessings.” Cultivating a habit of gratitude can help you notice flecks of light even in the dimmest of days. Though the times are tough right now, list three things you can be thankful for. Most people admit that the pandemic has made them realise how much we used to take for granted before Covid catapulted our lives. Inculcate gratitude into your daily or weekly routine so that you appreciate all that is going right for you.
3. Infuse tiny doses of positivity in your day
Third, make a concerted effort to infuse your days with tiny doses of positivity whenever possible. According to psychologist Barbara Frederickson, positivity may manifest in at least ten forms. So, try and experience joy, awe, amusement, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, love, pride or inspiration whenever possible. Don’t discount the small, fleeting moments of daily life. Sharing a joke with a friend, encountering an interesting new fact, watching a toddler chase after soap bubbles, conjuring a dish after seeing a delectable Instagram post. Enjoy these everyday happenings. Better still, relish them.
4. Amplify your strengths
The fourth strategy of hopefulness that Tomasulo advocates is capitalising on your strengths optimally. Each person has a unique profile of characteristic strengths and weaknesses. One person may be creative, persistent and exhibit leadership skills while another person may be kind, forgiving and have a good sense of humour. What matters is that we get a chance to exercise our strengths, ideally in our personal and professional lives, as this enhances our wellbeing.
5. Break down goals into achievable steps
Having large, overarching goals like becoming a successful dancer or a lead researcher in an organisation is another characteristic of high-hope people. While your overall goals may seem daunting or unattainable, break them down them down into smaller, more achievable steps. What do I need to do to have an arangetram in two years’ time? How many hours of practice will that require per week? Or, how many research projects can I undertake right now? Can I ask my mentor to help me device a reasonable time-frame for the completion of each project? Then, I can calibrate doable sub-goals to meet all the deadlines.
6. Have a goal with a greater purpose
When our goals are imbued with a greater significance or purpose, they can motivate us further. To illustrate this point, Tomasulo cites a parable offered by psychologist, Angela Duckworth. Three bricklayers are working. When each one is asked what he is doing, one says that he is carrying and laying bricks. Another one says that he is constructing a church. The third bricklayer describes his job as building God’s house. Though each of them is doing the same work, their perspective on the meaning of their creation is vastly different.
7. Invest in relationships
The last strategy of hopefulness involves fostering relationships. One of the best predictors of long-term wellbeing is the quality of our relationships, according to the Harvard longitudinal study that spanned 75 years. Tomasulo advocates that you nurture relationships that energise and sustain you, while reducing or minimising contact with people who enervate and discourage you. And, don’t shy away from forging new connections at any age. You never know when a smile or an understanding nod can burgeon into something deeper, lasting and meaningful.
Try practising these seven strategies to bring more hope into your lives. Tomasulo encourages you to do something every day to ratchet up your “intentional wellbeing.” Hopefully, more hope will then filter into your life.
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