Can Your Hope Survive Uncertainty in the Pandemic Era?

You can strengthen your hope skills. Here are 3 evidence-informed strategies.

Posted Jun 03, 2020

The idea that hope can survive even during difficult times may feel counter-intuitive. According to researcher Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D. (2020), we can recognize all our feelings and “when fear is paired with looking toward the positive, then it becomes hope,” leaving us with new possibilities.  We can own the whole of all our feelings – positive emotions and difficult emotions – while looking for cracks and corners in which we can notice glimmers of light.  

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Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1959), who survived the Auschwitz Nazi death camp during World War II, wrote about survival in even the worst situations. From the work of Dr. Frankl, we learn that we always have a choice – that emotional health is influenced by the attitudes we choose, the decisions we make, and the desire to look forward rather than backward. Research has consistently related hope to emotional and physical well-being, positive relationships, and effectiveness in academics and athletics (Rand & Cheavens, 2009; Snyder, 2002). 

Guiding ourselves toward hope is a choice we can make even during uncertain times. According to hope theory, hope involves a belief that we have the capacity, pathways, and resolve to reach toward our goals (Snyder, Rand, Sigmond, 2002; Snyder, 2000). Hope theory shifts hope from wishful thinking to doing with intentional goal-oriented motivation and action (Feldman & Dreher, 2011). Hope theory posits three components: (1) having a goal; (2) agency, the motivation and determination that the goal can be achieved; and (3) pathways, a plan for reaching the goal.

Three strategies to guide yourself toward greater hope during uncertain times:

1. To restore our capacity for hope, we can begin by savoring. Paying attention to even the briefest moments of goodness offers opportunities for hope and renewal (Jose, P.E. et al, 2012; Smith. J.L. & Hollinger-Smith, L., 2015). Savoring is an easy skill we can practice by just noticing what’s happening right now, in this moment, and then pausing briefly to enjoy it. Noticing is not just for the old or the young, or the leader or the worker, or the believers or the non-believers—noticing is possible for all of us.

Here are a few examples of moments one might savor:

  • Sitting in the comfort of your favorite chair.
  • Looking at an old photo that brings warm memories.
  • Tasting the delicious first bite of the food you enjoy.
  • Listening to the sound of the voice of a loved one.
  • Experiencing the beauty of the sunshine.
  • Noticing a flower growing as you walk outside or look out the window.

2. Gratitude acknowledges and connects us to life's goodness. Engaging in gratitude has emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits (Emmons, 2007). The practice of gratitude involves paying attention to what we are thankful for.

According to research conducted by psychologist Robert Emmons, Ph.D. (2007), writing daily in a gratitude journal is one of the most effective strategies to enhance gratitude. Although there is no specific right way to do this, paying attention to what we are thankful for on a daily basis is most effective. Why write? Evidence shows that putting thoughts into the language of words—oral or written—is more effective than just thoughts. 

3. Hope can be strengthened with these steps:

  • Have a goal. Whether short-term or long-term, small or large, having a goal offers direction to help you guide yourself forward. A goal that is specific and positive is likely to be a more effective guidepost than a vague, general goal. Consider self-inquiries, such as: What is important to me? What do I really want? What question am I trying to answer? How significant is this to me and why? 
  • Create an actionable pathway toward your goal. Generate one or more routes toward the destination and alternative options if the first pathway doesn’t get you there. What are your options? What else might you try if needed?
  • Engage your sense of agency and self-efficacy (Snyder, Rand & Sigmond, 2002; Bandura, 1997). Continue to motivate yourself along the pathway toward your goal. Bolster yourself with affirming messages that boost your confidence and motivation to continue toward your desired objective even when you confront obstacles and roadblocks. Examples of hopeful self-talk: “I can work my way toward this,” “I’ll keep trying despite the obstacles,” or “Things will work out in the end.”
  • Visualize yourself reaching your goal. Pause daily and imagine yourself actually achieving your goal (Dreher, 2008). Invite yourself to visualize this achievement in the present moment, imagining the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing as you reach your objective and live your new reality.

Summary of ideas for greater hope.

  • Savor even the smallest good moments.
  • Pay attention to what you are thankful for.
  • As you’re ready to guide yourself toward greater hope, set a goal to establish your direction. Develop a few steps to steer you to your destination and alternative options in case you need them. 
  • Motivate yourself with positive self-talk along the way.
  • Visualize yourself reaching your goal.
  • Experience a sense of hope as you take action toward achieving your goals.

**This post is for educational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman.

Dreher, D. (2008). Your personal renaissance: 12 steps to finding your life's true calling. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.

Emmons, R. (2007). Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Feldman, D.B. & Dreher, D. (2011). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 45-59.

Frankl, V. (1959). Man’s search for meaning. New York, NY: Washington Square Press.

Fredrickson, B.L.  (May, 2020). Positivity and Tragedy. Online Lunch & Learn, Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan & Wholebeing Institute.

Jose, P.E., Lim, B.T., & Bryant, F.B. (2012). Does savoring increase happiness? A daily diary study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(3), 176-187.

Rand, K.L. & J.S. Cheavens. (2009). Hope theory.  In S.J. Lopez & C.R. Snyder (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, 2, (323-333). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Snyder, C.R. (Ed.). (2000). Handbook of hope: Theory measures, and applications. San Diego, CA: Academic.

Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holleran, S. A., Irving, L. M., Sigmon, S. T., et al. (1991). The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 570-585.

Snyder, C.R., Rand, K.L. & Sigmon, D.R. (2002). Hope theory: A member of the positive psychology family. In C.R. Snyder & S. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology (257-275). New York, NY: Oxford Press.

Smith. J.L. & Hollnger-Smith, L. (2015). Savoring, resilience, and psychological well-being in older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 19(3), 192-200.