It’s been a tough year. Tough for individuals, tough for families, tough for communities, and tough for the greater world. Layers of “tough,” so to speak.

As 2020 comes to a close, I think most of us have been up close and personal with the “tough.” Many of us have taken inventory of the hardships, which weigh heavier for some more than others. What may be more elusive, yet some days the only force that keeps us going, is hope.

Hope is personal. It is subjective. My concept of hope and how I go about seeking it is likely to be different than yours. We all hope in our own ways. Hope can be specific … I hope I have a good day at work, or more abstract … I hope for something better. Regardless, hope allows us to temporarily transcend the “tough” by envisioning moments that evoke feelings of happiness, peace, and/or excitement. Hope can define us, inform us, and inspire us to take action.

We are a society that loves to focus on outcomes. The outcome of our investments, our looks, our grades, our performance. When hope is too closely tied to such outcomes, it can become conditional and too often backfire. When outcomes do not come to fruition or are not as expected, hope can leave a bitter taste and for some of us, can be harder to grasp. Associating hope too closely with failed outcomes can expedite feelings of hopelessness, resentment, and despair.

Whereas conditional hope can be limiting and depleting, wholehearted hope is much more transcendent. Wholehearted hope acknowledges the tragedies as well as the triumphs. Hope is not idealism and idealism is ultimately denial. Our world has some brutal realities right now. Being able to absorb tragedy and pain without sugarcoating and still believing that something better will come is wholehearted hope. Suffering and hope are intimately connected as when we can comprehend the darkness, the light in turn can become more clear.

Wholehearted hope acknowledges the inevitabilities of life. The trials, the heartbreak, the grief, and the valleys. Implicit in wholehearted hope is the art of “letting go,” recognizing that the motions of life are all ultimately acts of hope in themselves as life itself is unpredictable, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful, and full of surprises. Wholehearted hope makes room for perspective, growth, and openness. Our greatest struggles can often be our greatest teachers. Wholehearted hope allows us to seek comfort in the small moments of beauty and kindness amid otherwise despair.

Finally, wholehearted hope recognizes that while we cannot always control the circumstances that frighten, oppress, or limit us, we can still choose our response … our inner sanctum — and that is the basis of freedom.

10 ways to cultivate hope:

• Develop a spiritual practice. Find ways to explore meaning in your life.

• Start a gratitude practice. Find three things to be thankful for each day.

• Seek out support from others. This is a great way to gain perspective.

• Be gentle with your emotions. Stay curious about how you are feeling.

• Recognize that most everything is fleeting. This too shall pass.

• Share your story — you never know who you will inspire.

• Find ways to serve others.

• Move your body. Nourish your body. Health makes hope easier to grasp.

• Find reasons to laugh.

• Stay open to growth, even in tough times.

With all the layers of “tough,” it can be easy to be consumed by suffering. Hope is not an antidote to pain and cannot erase traumas that may continue to haunt us. Hope however does allow for the possibility of beauty born from pain and inspires our imagination to envision better days ahead. Perhaps this is best said from Holocaust survivor and psychologist, Edith Egar, Ph. D.:

“Hope tells us that life is full of darkness and suffering — and yet if we survive today, tomorrow we will be free.”

Wishing you a hopeful holiday season and New Year.