Hope Floats; Or does it?

Working Mallard decoys
Working Mallard decoys

Hope Floats; Or does it?

I love the round bottom decoys that I carve. They self-right, which means you can throw them in the water and they will pop right up and float like a real duck. You can hold it under water and let it go and it will pop right up just like it is supposed to. I have never thought about how that relates to us and my own hopes until recently.

Hope. Without it, we are done. That word signifies so much of our desired existence. I hope to get married. I hope to have children. I hope to have a great job. I hope this surgery works. I hope this latest medicine does the trick. I hope to be healed. And when the results of our hope don’t happen, we are devastated. We become depressed. We will try most anything to make our hopes and our dreams come true. And if they don’t, the next step that we make speaks everything about us.

Words such as resiliency or steadfastness or flexible all speak to our ability to deal with life when our hopes become dashed. There was even a movie titled “Hope Floats”, from a common term that describes the trait of hope that when all of life is sinking around us, hope floats. Some of us have been through a lot and hope is now water-logged and sinking.

Not too long ago, I had spiraled down once again and found myself hopeless. I began to look at the word hope and found a psychologist who did research on hope. His name is Dr. Charles Snyder and he developed what is known as a “Hope Theory”. He discovered that” hopeful thought reflects the belief that one can find pathways to desired goals and become motivated to use those pathways”. He discovered as well that hope “serves to drive emotions and well-being of people”.

We who have suffered for so long have had our hopes dashed because of our daily struggle with mind numbing pain. We may have been successful at one point in our lives now only to see that part of our life gone. What is left is a rearrangement of the word success and a rearrangement of expectations. There truly is a missing link between what is and what should be and there in is our struggle, isn’t it? I cannot work like I used to and therefore I struggle with self-esteem. I am supposed to be a provider for our family and I am not able to do so in the way I did before. Therefore, I have to readjust my own expectations for hope. I would say this is the same for you if you struggle with chronic pain.

My expectations may be too high right now. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t readjust those expectations and start at a lower level and work up. I used to work with my hands on beautiful art projects. I still can do some of it but not as much and I certainly can’t work as long and as hard as I once did. So now, I have to readjust my own expectations. And from this, there are so many other expectations that I have to readjust downward that include finances and my own desires. None of that however means that I am a failure. It just means that I have to find a different path to get at my own goals and hopes.

Snyder suggests that there are two areas that are important to being hope-filled. The first one is known as Pathways thinking. In order to reach goals, people must view themselves as being capable of generating “workable routes” to those goals. The internal message that hopeful people will have is that “I’ll find a way to get this done!” If you live with debilitating pain, sometimes this may mean several routes to getting a goal accomplished. Or we may have to readjust our own goals. An example is my little tool shed that is in my back yard, half painted and half finished. I still have not replaced all of the rotten wood on it because physically, I can’t do what I used to do. Will I become frustrated because I don’t have the physical stamina or the money to do it all at once or will I replace a board every once in a while as I am able? No, it is not perfect, but I still can do this. It may take several routes to get this done and a month or so, but I can still get this done.

The other area that Snyder discovered in high hope people is something he called “agency: the perceived capacity to use one’s pathways so as to reach desired goals.” In the previous paragraph, I used the phrase, “I can still get this done.” That is what Snyder called “Agentic thinking”. Phrases such as “I can do this” and “I am not going to be stopped” are phrases that hopeful people use. It reflects “thoughts about starting to move along a pathway and continuing to progress along that pathway.”

An example of this is when I now carve a bird, I look like a machine. I put on a neck brace from my cervical fusions, a lumbar brace from my lumbar fusion and lumbar surgeries, and hand braces from my hand surgeries. Is it ideal? No! But I want to be able to carve a bird and in doing so, I go more slowly, and need support. I can do this!

What Snyder also discovered is worth mentioning here. They found that “persons confronted with insurmountable goal blockages experience negative emotions, whereas successful, unimpeded goal pursuit or successful goal pursuit after overcoming impediments yields positive emotions!”
Did you get that? It is true, isn’t it? You can’t clean the house like you once could. But what if you took it one window at a time and cleaned that window to the best of your ability and put off the others for tomorrow. By adjusting our goals downward while we struggle with our pain and complete one thing well, it will inspire positive emotions rather than negative ones, inspiring us to do more things well.

Heck, I don’t know why pain is such a problem in our world right now. It should not be this way and I can spend all of my energy being angry about it and sulking over what should be. But I CAN do some things well and so can you, even while struggling with pain. By doing one thing well, you will experience hope beginning to float!

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