I have never been a particularly hopeful person. In the chaos of my family, I learned early on that hoping for something else was close to futile, and that the odds for happiness were better if I wished for nothing. And so, I grew up neither wishing nor aiming for a big future ahead of me. As I entered adulthood, my cynicism became part of my affect without me even noticing, despite my actual life being comfortable and often amazing. I saw these highlights not as things I planned or hoped for, but as lucky occurrences that crossed my path at the exact right time. Who knows if this is how life really happens, or if we can influence the future with affirmations or dogged goals? What I’m beginning to learn, though, is that hope is an attitude, and that it can improve how I feel about a lot of things, which is better than practically any tangible result I can imagine.
I’m convinced now that I can create a much bigger space for hope in the way I see the world and myself.
In many ways, I taught myself to be pessimistic. I was quite young when I started to believe that my family was messier than those of the kids I knew. I was also convinced that, as the youngest child in a group of overly emotional adults and near-adults, my hopes were not going to be their focus. My mom had her own dreams for me, mostly related to me being more “ladylike.” I’m not sure exactly what it was I wanted back then that didn’t come true, but the overall feeling I yearned for was more “normalcy” and “wholesomeness.” I wanted to have come from a family that seemed happy and engaged and where the kids had their own creative and social lives in which they felt enriched and successful. It was a fantasy, clearly, and because it seemed so impossible, I trained myself to not want it and not hope for it. Without really being aware of it at the time, this cynical stance kept me from dreaming much for myself.
I don't think you would know that by looking at me. I have a rich and happy life, many friends, a wonderful partner, and all the rest. In the end, even believing I couldn’t have a great life didn’t prevent me from having one. I’m not suggesting it’s all magic, because I know I work hard at being present and honest and committed to what I take on. More than anything, I expect my doubtful attitude has kept me from fully enjoying the bounty of my life. When I read about hope, I understand that, in its basic form, it is wanting something and believing that you can have it, which used to strike me as naïve. These days, I realize that being happy, or at least being engaged and present in my life as it is, is up to me. When I let myself lapse into feeling bitter or victimized, it's like locking myself into a tiny room with little air and no light.
I’m convinced now that I can create a much bigger space for hope in the way I see the world and myself. As corny as it may have once sounded to me, there is a lot of good in the world. It makes as much sense to foster hope about that than to mistrust it and protect myself from what I think is out to keep me from being happy. My goal going forward is to cultivate that hope, to encourage it in other people. Being cynical about what was ahead for me kept me from imagining more and from really using my inner machine to get there. But it isn’t too late. I’m growing hope now because I finally get it that I have nothing but pessimism to lose.