Feeling stressed about the future? You’re not alone. Many of us crave a hopeful future, one where we aren’t worried about money, relationships, or health. While we can’t control every external factor, there are a few ways to improve our internal thoughts and feel happier. Here, find simple ways to spark the hope that paves the way to happiness.
Light the way from within.
Hope is one of the strongest predictors of well-being, and the best way to spark it and feel happier is through what researchers call “pathways thinking.” Pathways thinking is the belief that you have the power to chart your own course, says expert Chan Hellman, PhD.
“Just shifting away from negative self-talk, such as ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can try,’ creates momentum because hope begets hope — it’s like changing gears in a car.”
To make this mental gear shift, Hellman suggests thinking back on a time when you achieved a goal. “You have done hard things, and reminding yourself of that helps you find inner strength.”
Take comfort in friends.
“Hope is a social gift,” declares Hellman. Simply sharing your dreams and struggles with a trusted friend lifts you up, and will in turn help you feel happier. “It also helps to have ‘hope role models,’ people who’ve overcome obstacles,” says Hellman. “Whether you read about an inspiring figure or reach out to a real-life mentor, hope never happens in isolation — it grows as soon as we make a connection.”
Let purpose drive you.
Take a moment to think about your purpose in life, encourages expert Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, PhD. “Reflect on the thing that most fulfills you, and picture all the ways it affects others — kind of like a concentric circle of positivity.”
For example, if you’re a teacher, you might say to yourself, “I helped a student realize her potential.” Don’t stop there: Think about how this student may pay that forward; she might one day become a teacher herself. When we reflect on our purpose and envision the ripple effects of those actions, hope begins to swell like a wave within us.
Visualize your success.
While optimism says, “Things are going to be okay,” hope declares, “I’m going to make things okay.”
“Though optimism and hope differ in that the latter focuses on your agency, people who are more optimistic also tend to be more hopeful,” says Simon-Thomas. And one of the fastest ways to boost both optimism and hope is with a best-self visualization: “Just picturing yourself five years from now achieving goals makes you hopeful that you have the power to bring about this future.”
Play mental movies.
“In one study, researchers asked folks to recall a time when they felt deeply supported,” says Simon-Thomas. “When they were then exposed to an anxiety provoking situation, their stress dramatically decreased.” In other words, simply replaying joy in your mind’s eye builds the resilience at the heart of hope.
Fill your ‘spiritual bank’.
Hope and spirituality are interconnected, says expert Lucinda Secrest McDowell. “I try to fill up my soul every day, like putting deposits in a bank so I’m never ‘overdrawn.’” That’s as easy as jotting down three things you’re grateful for, she encourages.
And most of all, it’s finding strength in something bigger than yourself, be it awe-inspiring vistas or your faith in a higher power. “No matter how challenging things get, there is always grace in the world, and you have the power to add to it.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.