In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we are uncertain and frightened as we attempt to adjust to the difficulties of a strange new reality. Confined to our homes, unable to see our loved ones, visit with friends, or enjoy all the activities that defined our daily lives, we are in desperate need of feeling hopeful – but can’t help wondering if there is any hope.
Only a few months ago, our lives, defined by work, family, children and recreation, were relatively predictable. We could not have imagined that we would soon experience such a complete disruption. If someone had described how our lives would change so quickly, so soon, our response would have been “impossible!”
But it is precisely moments such as these that provide an opportunity for self-reflection and the experience of discovering and searching our inner resources for much-needed resilience and strength. Feelings of frustration and pessimism are understandable, but feeling hopeful that this, too, shall end, is what will help sustain us through this difficult time.
We have the power to hope that we will emerge having gained an appreciation for our blessings and a greater sense of community. Indeed, looking forward to this positive outcome can help us transcend those negative feelings.
The present reality cannot be compared to any previous disruptions in our lives. Never before has society been so completely shut down – schools, stores, workplaces, parks, theatres – in order to protect ourselves from an enemy that is invisible, deadly and ruthless.
The pandemic has engaged the tireless efforts of the world’s most eminent scientists and doctors to produce a vaccine which is not expected to become available for months. The only weapon we have against this enemy, which has so far baffled the world’s scientific community, is hope.
In past wars or conflicts, we knew who the enemy was, we knew that the battles would take a limited amount of time, and that in a few weeks or months the fighting would end. We also knew that the wars would be mostly limited to soldiers, not civilians.
For example, in the Gulf War, civilians in Israel felt the "fear of war" for the first time. Today there is no home that is free from anxiety. The "enemy" is unknown – and no cure exists. But again, it is precisely this special situation that requires us to pay attention, to think and to examine the concept of hope.
The simplest definition of hope is the ability to draw a future that we want to participate in. In dozens of studies, hope has already been proven to be an important aid, a medicine much more powerful than any remedy we can find in a pharmacy. More than that, hope has already been shown to be contagious. In a much more positive and benign way, it is as powerful a virus as COVID-19.
As Victor Frankl wrote in his classic post-Holocaust work Man’s search for meaning, "Man cannot exist unless he looks to the future."
How to strengthen hope?
Academic research has proven that it is possible to strengthen hope, and that those who do so successfully "vaccinate" themselves, arming themselves against fear in much the same way that a medical vaccine protects against a virus. Research has proven that hope is the most useful remedy for fear.
In individual and collective situations of difficulty, being able to speak in a "language of hope" helps people to cope with the fear that comes from not knowing.
Interestingly, many studies have shown that hope emerges from a place of despair, helplessness and hopelessness. It turns out that hope does not disappear but is rather hidden, and even suppressed in the minds and souls of each and every one of us – and we are not aware of it at all.
In this way, hope is like the air that we breathe; we assume it will always exist, and therefore we take it for granted and don’t think twice about it. The coughing, breathing difficulties, and lung inflammation of corona patients are extreme examples of recognizing the importance of the air we take for granted.
Only when air is critically unavailable do we begin to think about it, search for it and run after it. So it is with hope: It is there all the time but not consciously, not overtly. And only when we are in a state of despair, severe pressure/distress, uncertainty or helplessness does the moment come when we seek it.
How to increase hope?
First, use of "the language of hope" must be intensified. A discourse that deals only with statistics (like how many dead people are in Italy), with statistical risks, and chances (probabilities) creates a discourse of fear and terror. In contrast, a discourse that opens the possibilities of a desirable future promotes us to a safe place where we want to be.
For example, instead of saying, "It's going to get worse," it is advisable to speak in the present language: "At the moment it is difficult, scary, and so on. But even if the future is unknown at the moment, we will overcome it." In the corona context, it is important that parents, the media, and policymakers use such discourse instead of using a threatening or fatalistic one.
Laughter and humor reinforce hope. And you've probably seen many recent social media posts: "The maid called and announced this week she'll be working from home ..."
Another thing that can strengthen hope is various activities and daily occupations. Yesterday, for example, I went to the local supermarket. There were not so many people in there. The store was a little quieter... I felt there was more space between people. More calmness. I felt that everyone around me was trying to do their personal shopping and not disturb others. It was a moment of hope for me...
As I walked through the shelves, I saw the flour bags. This sight suddenly opened to me the possibility of baking cake and bread at home. I decided to purchase the flour and make the cake and bread at home. Setting this simple goal and thinking about how to achieve it has already given me more hope.
Each and every one of us has small, meaningful activities and occupations that strengthen our hope. For example, hiking in nature, preparing a meal for our housemates, cycling, playing with the children and more.
For each of us, hope is different. Give yourself a chance these days to feel, experience and be with your hope. In this way each and every one of us may draw a future that she or he wants to participate in.
Dr. Dorit Redlich Amirav is an Occupational Clinic and Hope Investigator at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Occupational Therapy, Faculty of Medicine.