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  • The New Year and the Psychology of Hope

    The early days of the New Year confront us with the question of the future, and the psychology of hope. Where can I find solid hope for my future?

    psychology of hope

    New Year’s: Crossing the Bridge to the Future

    In our era, people face substantial anxiety about the future.  We’re bombarded with news and information from many directions — economic, environmental and political, among other sources — that often seem bleak. Additionally, each individual has to deal with their own particular life circumstances.  Where can we find some source or sense of abiding hope that will help us to move forward into a future that seems welcoming, that seems to be a place where we would actually want to live?

    The Dominant Stories

    That sense of hope may be difficult to find in some of the dominant stories that our culture gives us about what is really meaningful and valuable in life.

    Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics, is an expert on the measurement of happiness.  He recently wrote an article in the Guardian Newspaper entitled

    The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet?

    Dolan is using the word “myth” here in a different way than Jungians use it, but his concern is that we can come under the influence of harmful stories, which he also calls narrative traps, such as the stories in our culture around wealth and success, that tell us that, no matter how much we have of these things, we ought to be reaching for more.  As he puts it, these stories tell us that “ever more happiness is achieved with ever more money and more markers of success”.  Dolan stresses that, beyond a certain point, this just isn’t true, and that the “happiness hit” that you gain from more money and more status actually gets smaller and smaller the more you get.

    Dolan suggests that to be happier we need to move from a culture of “more please” to one of “just enough”.

    We might agree with Dolan that the “more please” approach doesn’t really bring happiness — or hope.  Yet Dolan doesn’t seem to give us anything to put in its place that really could provide valid hope.  The idea of “just enough” may give us a sense of moderation or responsible environmental stewardship — but is that really something to live for?

    What Really Brings Us Hope?

    Humans fundamentally need hope!  This is especially true at the times in life that involve major life transitions.  As Paul Tillich told us, “Without hope, the tension of our life toward the future would vanish, and with it, life itself.”

    However, we can’t go to the store, and just pick up hope off the shelf.  Jung stresses that, “Faith, hope, love and insight are the highest achievements of human effort.”  Contrary to what many voices in our society might tell us, we actually have to put concrete effort into creating hope in our lives.  As the positive psychologists would tell us, we have to live an engaged life, where we use our strengths and virtues to gain genuine gratification in the main areas of our lives.  We also have to use our abilities in the service of something much larger than ourselves.

    How Do I Find My Hope?

    All of this sounds good in general, but how do I go about finding what genuinely gives me, my individual self, hope?  “There is no recipe for living that suits all cases” Jung tells us, meaning that I have to go on an individual journey to find out what I need to live my own true life in my authentic way.  What works for other people, and brings meaning and hope for them, may be different than what works for me.  Again, as Jung asserted in one of his most profound quotations,

    The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.

    The task of finding what gives us a truly individual sense of meaning and hope will take our real effort, and in many senses is the masterwork of a lifetime.  Yet we can begin to search for what is fulfilling right now, right where we are.  Often working  with a skilled /a-midlife-transition can be an important part of opening up our individual journey to hope and meaning.

    With best wishes for a New Year of Meaning and Hope!

    Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst


    PHOTOS: Daniel Jolivet (Creative Commons Licence)
    © 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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