Cultivating An Attitude Of Hope

“What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life.”
Emil Brunner, theologian, 1889-1966

The late rabbi, Hugo Gryn, told how his father secretly lit the Chanukah lights in the Lieberose concentration camp in 1944 … using margarine. When Gryn protested about wasting food, his father replied that while they had often lived for three weeks without food, “You cannot possibly live for three minutes without hope.”

How very, very true. And in these tough times, you must remember that life will either bless you or bury you. It all depends on your attitude. You must learn to maintain an attitude of hope.

The problem is … you may have “A Wet-Blanket Committee” operating in your head. Every time you get a new idea, or every time you think a hopeful thought about your business or your future, the “Wet-Blanket Committee” calls a meeting. The old voices from your past begin to tell you that you’re not able or you’re not worthy. Other committee members tell you the competition is too stiff or the economy is too weak.

Well let me tell right here and right now, you can’t speak death over your future and expect good things to come to life. You must learn to cultivate an attitude of hope. In fact, the research tells us that people work harder and better when they have HOPE for the future.

A cardiologist, a Dr. Richter, discovered this when he was studying the “diving reflex.” He wired up laboratory rats and placed them in water-filled glass vats. He noticed that rats swim for many hours and then appear to dive deliberately to their death at the bottom of the vat.

Of course, Richter did not let the rats die. He was simply checking out their heart rates as they swam and as they dove to the bottom. When each rat reached the bottom of the vat, Richter lifted it out of the water.

Some days later, he used the once-rescued rats again in the experiment. To his surprise, each once-rescued rat swam twice as many hours as it had in the initial experiment. As psychiatrist Jerry Lewis points out, “It is hard not to invoke the idea of hope: that rats, once rescued, swim twice as long before diving to death because Richter had been there for them once before.”

That being the case, how do you cultivate an attitude of hope … despite the economy, your company’s future, or all the other factors in your life? My program on “Staying Up In A Down World: 8 Keys To A More Positive Workplace” answers the question in great detail.

But let me give you a few tidbits right now.

=> 1. Choose to hope.

Remember, like all attitudes, hope is a choice.

Now you may think, “Big deal. I already knew that.” But do you REALLY know that?

I work with and listen to adults all the time in my speaking and training programs. And even though they might intellectually know they choose their attitudes, they don’t act that way. They’ll tell me … when they’re having an especially difficult time … that all their problems are due to the fact … they got up on the wrong side of the bed … that their customers expect too many price concessions … or their spouse is rude and inattentive. They act like something else or someone else is killing off their attitude of hope and making them feel hopeless.

I tell them, “NO, YOU CHOSE your attitude of hope or hopelessness.”

You can’t keep on blaming your parents, where you live, the color of your skin, the school you attended, the other people at work, or the politicians in Washington … forever. You can’t be like the mother who hadn’t learned that lesson. As she was Christmas shopping with her 8-year old daughter, as she was huffing and puffing her way through the throngs of people, Mom said, “Did you see that dirty look that man gave me in the store?” The little girl answered, “He didn’t give it you, Mommy. You had it when you went in.”

You see … you don’t need a new set of circumstances. What you need is a new set of attitudes … because there are tough times now … BUT there will always be tough times.

You’ve got to move away from a suffocating focus on your circumstances to a liberating focus on hope. In fact, that’s the very choice every mature person has to make … sooner or later.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said that very choice may be one of the great secrets of happiness. After 25 years of researching what it was that made people happy, he discovered that happiness is not something that just happens. Neither does it have much to do with money, power, or material possessions, as evidenced by the fact that happiness can be found among both rich and poor, powerful and weak. Csikszentmihalyi concluded, “People who control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.”

And once you’ve chosen an attitude of hope …

=> 2. Strengthen your hope muscle.

Build it up. Work it out. Strengthen your hope muscle by shaking off the tough times.

Perhaps you remember the story of the old farmer whose mule fell into a well. Since there was no way to get him, the farmer decided to bury him in there. But the mule had a different idea.

Initially, when the shovels of dirt began landing on the mule, he became hysterical. Then he thought to himself, “I’ll just shake it off and step on it.” So he did. Hour after hour as the dirt fell on him, he kept telling himself, “Just shake it off and step on up.” No matter how much dirt they threw on him, he just kept shaking if off and stepping on it — until finally he stepped triumphantly out of the well.

That was more or less the motto of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey … known as the happy warrior. And he got that name, even though he lost several bids for the Presidency and eventually lost his life to cancer.

He continually pronounced, “We live by hope. We do not always get all we want when we want it. But we have to believe that someday, somehow, some way, it will be better and that we can make it so.” And perhaps as his legacy, almost every issue he fought for has now become the law of the land.

As diplomat Clare Booth Luce wrote in the early 1900’s, “There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”

So what’s holding you back? Where do you feel hopeless? Maybe it’s time for you to strengthen your hope muscle. After all, the people who distinguish themselves in human life … who rise to big achievements … who experience the greatest joys … are those who simply shake off the tough times. They do not let the tough times deter them.

Such was the case with one man who lived in Italy who was born with a bad back. When he lay on his back too long, he suffered acute pain … not to mention a nasal obstruction that made breathing very difficult when he was on his back.

His name was Michelangelo. And when I visited Rome and stood gazing in wonder at the paintings by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it struck me how he learned to work around an almost pervasive sense of hopelessness. After all, to paint the ceiling, he had to lie on his back on scaffolding all day long, every day, for twenty months. For almost two years he endured excruciating pain in his back, with his nose so closed up he could hardly breathe. But he did it. He produced one of the greatest masterpieces of all time because he never let his physical problems stop him. He kept his attitude of hope intact and working for him.

There has never been a better time for you to strengthen your hope muscle. So I encourage you to practice it. Keep it alive and well.

Action:  In any situation you are facing, ask yourself if you are feeling “hopeful” or “hopeless” about it. And if need be, tell yourself, “I choose to keep on hoping for the best in this situation.”