Finding Hope Through Good Times and Bad

How to Keep a Hopeful Outlook When Life is Tough

When things are going well, it's easy to believe the future will go well, too. But when life takes a turn for the worse, things get harder. In those times, hopelessness can creep in. If we don’t notice when despair shows up, or if we don’t work to stop feeling hopeless, these feelings can seem to consume us over time.

There have been times my feelings of hopelessness were so strong, I forgot there was ever hope to begin with.

Is this how you’re feeling during this season of your life? If so, maybe you can relate to this person who reached out to TheHopeLine:

“I’m so tired of people telling me everything happens for a reason. My job had to cut back my hours. My best friend and I have been arguing more. And I don’t feel like I can talk to my parents about my intense depression and suicidal thoughts, because I don’t want to worry them. I don’t know how to feel better about my life when I feel like I’ve never had it as hard as I do now.”
I understand how they’re feeling. And how you’re feeling, too. It is very difficult to find hope sometimes. It’s even harder when people around you are stressed, too. Sometimes, none of the advice you’re getting seems helpful.

But when I think about where hopelessness leads, finding a way to be hopeful is worth it.
Here’s why:

  • I’ve realized that when I get into a habit of focusing on hopelessness, it sends me into a tailspin.
  • That feeling of a “downward spiral” makes it hard for me to recognize the good in my life, in my relationships, and in the world around me.
  • I don’t want to go back to that place in my mind. I want to make the most of the life I’ve been given. So, I work on finding my way back to hope and peace of mind. The more I search for hope and get the support I need to feel better about my future, the more hope becomes my new habit.

I’ve been through this process many times over the course of my life. And, while it’s not easy to commit to being hopeful, it’s made me a stronger person. Many times, I was able to keep going because I knew I had guidance through the tough times. And now, I’m here for you. Here are some lessons I’ve learned about how to be more hopeful, and what to do to shift my thinking towards a habit of hope.

How to Find Hope in Struggles: You Can Stop the Spiral

As I mentioned, one of the biggest reasons to work on feelings of hopelessness is that, if we don’t work against them, it could feel like we’re on a downward spiral. For example:

  • If you feel hopeless about your friendships and relationships, you might isolate yourself, which is even harder on your mental health.
  • If you feel shame about the mistakes you’ve made, you might feel hopeless that you can grow. You might try to numb this pain with drugs, alcohol, or other harmful addictive behaviors (like cutting or self-harm).
  • If you struggle with anxiety, anger, or deep depression, but never turn to someone for help finding a more hopeful outlook, you might end up struggling with suicidal ideations.

I know how hard these feelings can be. And I get that it feels like you’re stuck.

But here’s the good news. You can get “unstuck”. Even if you feel like you’ve already started off on a path you’ll regret, you can stop the spiral. You can break the cycle of hopelessness. You can take steps to stop feeling miserable and start feeling hopeful about your life. You’ve found a community of people who can help you, and you can start getting help right now.

You Can Change Your Outlook

Hopelessness brings with it a powerful myth: things will never change for the better. It feels true because, if we’re sad or overwhelmed about one situation after another, we forget to even look out for the happiness that life can still bring.
But looking at your own experiences busts this myth. There’s a much more hopeful truth: you can change your outlook, because change happens all the time

  • Think back to who you were as a child. Think about all the ways you’ve grown and all the things you’ve learned since then.
  • Think of ways you feel differently about yourself and your life from this time last year.
  • Remember you have made it through every bad day or time so far, and you can do the same this time around.

You are not the same person you were a year ago, or even a month ago! You have changed so much over the course of your life. You have made new decisions, tried new things, and gone new directions, even when it wasn’t easy.

If life can change as much as it does, and if we know we don’t stay the same as people, then we can ditch the harmful myth that we’re stuck where we are and find hope in the truth: we can change our outlook to a more hopeful one, and we can find ways to lift our spirits.

You Can Think of Life as a Journey

Certainly, there are things that happen in life, good and bad, that were not a result of our planning, or that are beyond our control. But life isn’t just something that “happens to us”, about which we can never do anything. We are on more of a journey through our life than we realize in the tougher times.

  • How does your mindset change when you realize that you have the power to make choices about your life, your feelings, and your outlook?
  • When you think of life as a journey, can you imagine where you’d like your life to go?

When you are able to imagine a good, peaceful place, or a new, exciting adventure, hang on to that. You are starting to rediscover your sense of hope and finding purpose.

You Can Document Your Journey

One of the ways I’ve found it easier to remember my hope is to think back to times when I was feeling hopeful and optimistic. If I had hope in the past, I know I can rebuild and regain my hope for the present, or the future. But it’s hard to remember hopeful times when fear and hopelessness demand so much space in our mind, and so much energy from our bodies.

That’s why documenting our journey back to hope is so important. When I journal, I try to write down at least one thing I enjoyed about my day, one thing I am grateful for, or one thing I was proud of. Whatever good I can find on that day, I make note of it along with the tough stuff. Later, when I’m wondering how to get unstuck from a tough time, I have a way to look back over what I learned when things were tough before. It makes it easier to see how I’ve grown, what made me happier when I was sad, and how far I’ve come over time.

There are a few ways you can keep track of your journey:

  • Keeping a private journal: This is one of the easiest ways to start reminding yourself you’re on a path, and you can make progress. You can include how you’re feeling each day, as well as making an effort to list 3-5 things you’re grateful for, or looking forward to.
  • Blogging or video blogging: If it’s intimidating to share with all your social media followers, you can adjust your privacy settings to share with individuals or smaller groups
  • Sharing your thoughts in an online community: There are lots of online communities that are specific to the struggles you’re facing, and it could be a good way to hold yourself accountable to the work you need to do. Not to mention it could be a helpful reminder that you’re not alone.

You Can Set Goals

When we are going through a happy time, we are excited about what lies ahead. That feeling of “there’s something ahead of me that I look forward to”, or “I am curious and excited about what this will turn out to be” is part of our sense of hope.

Along with journaling and remembering we can change our mindset; we can also set goals to work toward. Knowing we are working on something and celebrating little wins along the way can help us reconnect with those hopeful feelings. This could look like:

  • Health goals: I will drink 6 glasses of water a day and track how I feel.
  • Hobby goals: I will spend an hour each evening working on a 1000-piece puzzle.
  • Relationship Goals: I will check in with a friend or family member once a week to see how they’re doing.

Goals of any kind give us a sense of purpose. Knowing we have something to accomplish, even if it’s small, reminds us that we were created with a purpose. The good news? That purpose is still a part of us, no matter what’s going on around us. And we can always reconnect with it.

You Can Learn from Others

When we aren’t sure how to regain our hope, looking to others can be very helpful:
● Stories of people we admire can show us how they got through hopeless seasons of their lives
● Talking to loved ones can show us there is someone who believes in us
● Researching how to change and grow can give us new ideas we hadn’t considered before.
● Seeking mentoring can get us extra support from someone trained to help us through difficult situations.
If you’re ready to get back to the hope you had during better times, there’s good news. You can start on that journey right now. TheHopeLine offers mentoring from Hope Coaches, who are trained to help people rediscover their sense of hope. Talk to a Hope Coach today about why you’re feeling hopeless, and what you can do to work on turning things around. We are here for you and ready to offer support.

Life can be hard, and hope can be hard to find. If you have ever wondered, how can I find the hope to keep going, this is a must-read

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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