The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hope as wanting something to happen or to be true. Wikipedia says hope is an “optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes.” I’ve discovered hope comes in many forms. We can hope for things over which we have no control: “I hope the weather is nice this weekend.” That’s wishful thinking. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not the type of hope I’m talking about.
Sitting around waiting for good fortune to arrive is a passive type of hope. You’ve probably heard the story about the man who spent months hoping and praying to win the lottery. He was so hopeful, and he was absolutely convinced it was going to happen. After months of praying repeatedly to God to win the lottery, his prayers were finally answered. God’s answer was, “Buy the ticket.”
To get the results we’d like, hope requires action, and many of the things we hope for are things within our control. For example, to get the results I wanted, I studied for the spelling tests; I practiced two hours every day before the regional and state piano competitions; I prepared for the job interview, and we spent months preparing for the move. That’s active hope, and active hope requires planning, effort and perseverance.
Hope plays a vital role in every one of life’s challenging situations and especially when confronting a cancer diagnosis. Hoping for a cure or remission, or navigating treatment side effects, requires active hope – meaning taking action: getting the recommended medical care, talking with someone who knows the ropes, utilizing self-care measures by practicing integrative therapies like mindfulness, deep breathing, or reframing distressing thoughts. Active hope reduces feelings of helplessness, increases happiness, and reduces stress. Active hope changes “I can’t cope,” to “I need help with this.” Active hope changes “being worried” to “being determined.”
I often talk about having a coping strategy “toolbox,” you know, techniques we know how to use when feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed. I think we also need a “hope chest.” Hope chests originated in 15th century Renaissance Italy and initially were used by unmarried women to store precious heirlooms and gifts. I would suggest we have many precious hopes in our hope chests, but we need to examine what kind of hopes we’re holding onto. Are our hopes wishful thinking about things we can’t control? Are they passive hopes – where we sit in our arm chairs and wait for good things to happen? Or are they active hopes – requiring effort and perseverance? We can’t control receiving a cancer diagnosis or any number of other difficult situations, but we can make hope an action word and hope for the best outcome.
What’s in your hope chest?
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SUE'S GIFT BLOG
Sherry Martin is the Patient Services Director for Sue's Gift, a licensed clinical social worker with over thirty years of experience in the field of oncology social work, and author of the book, Beginning Again: Tools for the Journey through Grief: A Step-by-Step Guide for Facilitators of a Grief Support Group. Sherry lives with her husband in Woodland Park, Colorado.
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