Guest Post

Cultivating Hope

Today The Layered Onion has a guest blog post from Shelly Smith of Good Human Work on the topic of hope. Mental health rises and falls as life moves forward; we need art and we need hope as our points of consistency.

Shelly Smith, LMFT, is a licensed therapist and a co-founder of Good Human Work. Shelly’s roles include writing, speaking, and taking good care of her team of therapists and the clients they serve. She is dedicated to offering services that are approachable, productive, collaborative, and impactful. 

At Good Human Work, we believe that focusing on human connection is essential. Through our therapy services, licensed therapists provide our clients with the education, insight, and tools to create real and lasting change on a deeply human level.

Shelly’s blog offers perspective on cultivating hope and keeping it close to us to support us.

What really is hope?

When we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed, fearful, or sad, our emotions and thoughts can create a sense of loneliness or despair. We may feel that we are somehow broken or flawed or not enough. When we feel this way, it’s important to find hope.

We remind ourselves that those negative thoughts are not true. We are not broken. We are not alone. We are no more flawed than any other human being. Hidden behind our toughest thoughts and feelings, there is still hope.

Hope is a link that connects us to the world at large. It is a connective tissue between our thoughts and feelings that ties us together and encourages us to take one more step – then another, and another. Hope is what makes life seem possible during the worst moments.

At its base definition, hope tells us that something is coming. Hope is a want for something, a positive anticipation, a reason to keep moving forward. There are always glimmerings of hope within us, because hope is part of the human condition.

There is always hope.

It’s normal to sometimes feel like we’ve “lost” hope. And when we feel like there is no hope left, it can be devastating. In these moments, we must remind ourselves that it’s still there, hiding underneath the overwhelming and difficult circumstances. Hope always exists within us. Tapping into hope can bring us out of our anxiety or sadness and position us in a more optimistic space.

An illustration of the space that hope can give. Optimistic space. Art and mental health. Mental health and art.

In this space, we begin to see new opportunities and find resiliency, and it becomes a part of how we take another step forward. Hope reminds us that, even though challenges involve elements of many complex emotions, what we are doing in this world is good and has purpose and meaning.

Purpose and meaning are important. What you are doing has purpose and meaning. You add value. Value with art and mental health. Mental health and art.

But it is up to us to find and cultivate our hope.

How do we find it?

When we feel as if we haven’t any hope, it serves us well to try one or a few different alternatives to seek it. Create a list for yourself that includes these and other options that resonate with you, so you can choose what might work in different moments.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Enter into the natural world – take a walk or hike, sit in a park, listen to the birds, look at the sky or stars, or seek a body of water. Nature is filled with hope in every creature and in all seasons. Look for it. Seek out where you can find awe, wonder, peace, or curiosity there – these naturally help us find hope. 
  • Open up to a trusted person, explaining that you can’t seem to find hope, and ask if they can help. Frequently others can see the glimpse of hope and, through conversation or comfort, can help us find where it lies within us. 
  • Find laughter. When we can’t find hope, it can mean we also can’t find joy or levity. These are tied together, so by seeking one, we will find some of the other. What makes you laugh? It might be a favorite comedian, a funny friend, pets or other animals, a well-written joke or pun, or something silly you saw recently. Lean into the laughter, allowing yourself to feel lighter and amused by the world around you, and you will find a glimmer of hope.
  • Try to create. When we have lost hope, it can be difficult to be creative. However, creative expression inherently incorporates elements of hope. Sometimes finding hope through creativity takes trying a new form or returning to one we haven’t used recently, so the novelty can spark something inside of us.
Hope flies as if on the wings of birds. Hope elevates mental health. Nature updates the view. Art and mental health. Creativity. Mental health and art.

How do we cultivate hope?

In finding hope, each of those examples above involves us “getting out of our own heads” and engaging with the world around us. It’s really about connection. Connection between us and others, or between us and the world we live in. Connection helps us feel hope.

We often get lost inside of ourselves, which can increase feelings of sadness, loneliness, and fear. Interacting positively with the world around us shows us that there is more than those feelings, which helps clear the clouds so we can see the rays of hope shining through.

Once we get the smallest glimpse of hope, we can use that little bit to cultivate more. As soon as we can recognize hope, we “feed” it, encouraging it to grow.

Water the seeds of hope with a watering can so that they can grow. Our minds need hope. 

Art and mental health. Creativity. Mental health and art.

Here are a few ways that we can visualize and encourage hope to grow:

  • We can choose to hold onto that glimmer of hope and imagine it like a little flame that we can build into a larger fire, or a baby plant that we nurture into health and strength.
  • We can tell ourselves over and over that “I know there is hope” or “I know things will improve.” With repetition, our brain begins to believe what we tell it.
  • Feel the hope deeply and long for more of that feeling. We can have hope about having more hope, and wanting to feel more of that. 
Longing for hope. Longing in a word cloud. Word art and mental health. Mental health and art.
  • When doubts or negative thoughts come to cloud it out, we can tell our brain, “Stop. I want this hope, this feeling,” and hold onto it. Again, with repetition and mindfulness, our brain will respond, and it gets easier.
  • We can use our artistic self to cultivate this glimmer of hope through any preferred expression that allows your passion and positivity to thrive. Grow the hope through writing, visual art, dance, song, or any creative outlet that allows you to feel the hope more deeply. Feel it growing as you lean into it and express it fully.
  • Similar to finding it, cultivating hope is easier in community rather than in isolation. With another who understands our journey, we can encourage and support one another to continue doing this emotional work.

Hope naturally wants to grow with us. And cultivating hope is a skill that becomes easier the more we practice it. Eventually, the cultivation will begin to happen on its own, without us even trying. Repetition and consistency matter.

Repetition and routines help. Routines build hope. Your routines and repetition as an artist can do this. Mental health and art. Art and mental health.

Our hope reminds us that even during hard times, good is coming – and we can rest in knowing that we are doing the best we can. Remember, you are doing the good, hard work of being human. Hope is there for you.

You are doing the best that you can. Take the time to rest.

This visual is the word rest with the musical symbol for a half rest over the T. 

Art and mental health. Mental health and art.