Susan Steen

Susan Steen

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

It’s my favorite article of the year! The one where I announce to anyone who cares to know the word I have chosen to guide the year ahead — in my life and in my writing.

But then, I think back to last year and my word VISION. It was really derailed somewhere along the way when my vision became pretty blurred by the presence of a global pandemic that left me at home much of the time. As I have been reviewing photos from my photography group depicting “2020 in a Photo,” I’ve looked back at it all and realized my vision at the end is one of sadness for all the fractured relationships and lives.

I am not willing to let myself fall into that for 365 more days. Nope, I have turned to Tennyson and HOPE, as I see it smiling from the threshold of 2021 (which will have just begun when you read this), and I hear it whispering “it will be happier,” and I know that HOPE is the perfect word to lead the way.

Webster’s Dictionary says hope is a verb meaning to cherish a desire with anticipation and is a noun meaning desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment. I know all about expectations and the resentments they can create, so I think I’ll stick with approaching the year believing in and anticipating happier days and a healthier approach to the life I’d like to have and the world in which I’d like to live.

It’s not too difficult to become jaded in life, especially if you’ve felt like nothing is going right — lost keys, lost job, lost home, lost love. But here’s the thing I believe we often overlook — life isn’t about things always going right, and our job while we are here is to learn to navigate as well as we are able (tears are undervalued, I think).

Sometimes, we won’t feel very capable of navigating well at all, and we can lose our hope, becoming hopeless. You might say you’re optimistic that things will get better, and that’s nice, but optimism is about trying to keep a good attitude, while hope ... hope is about having a goal and a path to reaching it. Hope is what keeps a lot of people alive (I’ll talk about this more another week).

C.R. Snyder is a hope researcher (yes, there is such a thing), and he said, “Hope implies that there is the possibility of a better future.” Doesn’t that feel good to think about bringing into your life? I’m guessing people who choose to work in medical fields are like those who want to become teachers — they have hope in affecting lives positively, they have a goal and a path to reach it.

It’s the beginning of another year. What if we bring hope into the picture? Not I hope I land that job, or I hope someone asks me to go to a movie unless you have a path for reaching those goals. I have hope that I will be healthier over the course of the year because I have some specific goals and paths to reach them.  

In all of my reading about hope, I’ve enjoyed Shane Lopez, PhD the most. I’m looking forward to reading his book “Making Hope Happen” during my year focusing on hope. Lopez offers these suggestions for building hope:

  • · envision a specific future goal in a way that makes it come alive
  • · work toward the goal
  • · plan for contingencies

What would surviving 2020 have looked like if I had created an idea board of what I wanted for my VISION focus? What would it have looked like if I found ways to reach the vision (a path), like taking classes to learn more about my vision goals, which I never really set? And how would the year have ended differently if I had a contingency plan for when things were going off track (a global pandemic)?

I can guess that I would have been less anxious and more appreciative of the opportunities to live differently.

2020 is in the rearview mirror, and 2021 is waiting for us to live in it. What hope do you have for the year ahead? If you say anything along the lines of “Not much,” you’ll probably accomplish just that. But what if you and I look at the missed opportunities of the past year because of disagreements and differing opinions and decide what our hopes are for the world — our little corner or the bigger planet?

We aren’t going to figure it all out in one article or one week, but this is where we begin. One of my favorite words is intentional, and I believe if we want to have hope for good things in the year ahead, we’ll have to be intentional in our choices. Heck, maybe we do have to have a few expectations for what we hope to achieve, but we won’t have to deal with resentments if we plan for contingencies.

And in all of this excitement I’m feeling about really focusing on hope, I know there are a lot of people in the world who just don’t see a way out of their hopelessness. Telling someone to snap out of it or reminding them life could always be worse does nothing to extend a life preserver to them.

Norman Rice said, “Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light.” If you and I are feeling hopeful, we need to share some of that with those around us who have seen no way out of their darkness. Sometimes, it is necessary to help someone learn how to have hope, and that is a powerful gift to share.

Hope is smiling, whispering “it will be happier” in 2021, not because we have positive attitudes, but because we know that if we want to do more than survive, we must make a plan. I hope you’ll join me in creating a little hope in the new year and in each new day. Maybe you’ll even share how you’re planning to move forward in this opportunity for happier days.

Happy New Year!

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.

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