“Hope is the dream of a waking man.”
— Aristotle, ancient Athenian philosopher
“It’s hard to remain hopeful,” he said, “as you grow older.”
I thought about the statement and wondered if it could be true.
“When you’re young, life is filled with endless possibilities.”
I was chatting with an older friend who admitted to feeling his sense of hope and possibility dwindling while anxiety and hopelessness increased as the years advanced.
He described his life as a wide open road that had — over time — narrowed to a tiny path.
I thought about my own narrowing path. About all the things I still wanted to do, the dreams I thought I would have accomplished by this point and the things I might never accomplish.
Admittedly, it was a tad unsettling for me as the gentleman in question was only 15 or so years older than me.
Perhaps there is no life quality more important than hope.
The American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once declared, “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving forward. You lost that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today, I still have a dream.”
Recently I read of a study on self-esteem and aging in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.
The study concluded that self-esteem was lowest among young adults but steadily increased through adulthood, peaking at age 60 where after it began to decline. It was a startling statistic.
If our self-esteem declines at age 60 than so it seems must hope, a vital component of healthy self-esteem.
Of course, there are reasons we might lose hope as the years advance.
As we grow older, we may feel that our biggest contributions to this world have passed: raising our children, advancing our careers.
We may feel that we’re not as needed or important as before.
As the years mount, our dreams may seem unattainable or beyond our capability.
If sickness or a disability has ravaged us, we may no longer be capable of caring for ourselves.
A loss of independence or feeling like we are a burden to others can create a profound state of hopelessness.
The loss of a loved one can fill us with despair and overwhelm us with sadness.
The resulting heartbreak can also be hope-breaking, convincing us that we’ll never be happy or whole again.
The challenge becomes how (at whatever age) to keep hope afloat.
We all face difficult times when purpose and meaning become elusive.
How we interpret those times will have a tremendous effect on our self-esteem and how hopeful we become or remain.
When I begin to feel hope slipping, I try to reflect on my strengths and my accomplishments.
Not in a “glory days” kind of way — wishing and longing for the past — but in a tangible way that shows me that my life has made a difference. I am a great advocate of journalling.
I have been capturing my challenges and triumphs for many years now.
I will often pull an old journal off the shelf and turned to a page or section that chronicles a major achievement or breakthrough.
This tactic also serves to remind me of actions I’ve taken in the past when I faced desperate and hopeless times. It is a reminder of my wisdom and resourcefulness.
To remain hopeful, I will often make plans to do something exciting, even if it’s weeks or months away.
Hope is a form of future-pacing, meaning it places us mentally in a future time and place where our goals can be realized and happiness is possible.
When I am filled with hope, we have little room for despair — I am lifted out of depression and my outlook improves.
It’s a lot easier to feel hopeful when you’re feeling healthy. Admittedly, illness is sometimes unavoidable but I think we must do what we can (at every age) to nurture our bodies by eating well, getting adequate sleep, regular exercise and of course, managing our stress level.
Equally important as nurturing the body is nurturing the heart through spiritual practices.
For me, I read empowering books, spend time with inspiring friends and make time regularly to meditate and reflect.
You may prefer more traditional spiritual endeavours like going to church.
Nurture hopefulness through the act of forgiving others and forgiving yourself.
Set aside past differences, release the burden of unfulfilled expectations and self-condemnation.
Avoid comparing yourself to others.
It’s human nature to draw comparisons but it can prove damaging to your self-esteem.
There will always be those who are wealthier, healthier or more attractive but remember, just as likely, there are people out there who wish they could be you.
One of my greatest challenges to remaining hopeful has been managing change.
A lack of adaptability can lead to stress, fear and hopelessness. Change is inevitable as we grow older.
Change may be unavoidable but our feelings, actions and behaviour are controllable.
When we lose hope, our world becomes smaller and possibilities diminish.
Our self-talk becomes pessimistic, our outlook bleak and self-esteem plummets.
If left to dwell in a state of hopelessness, we begin to wither and die.
Even when deep in the throes of depression and fear, hope provides a glimmer of light — the tiny but undeniable possibility of better days to come.
“The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveller than the road built in despair,” wrote American author, Marion Zimmer Bradley.
“Even though they both lead to the same destination.”
Remaining hopeful — at any age — requires courage.
Courage to use the wisdom acquired through a life of living purposefully and moving through adversity.
Hopefulness is the life quality that has the greatest potential to bring happiness.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.