Hope is the thing with feathers

Dr. Joel Ying, MD

Physician, Educator, Storyteller. He hosts this website for "Living the Present Moment" as a conscious journey of Body, Mind, Emotion & Spirit. Holistic and integrative, his practice includes Tai Chi and Yoga, Craniosacral Therapy, Healing From the Core, Meditation. Always exploring his edges, he shares them in the blog, newsletter, courses, and online study group.

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“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul…”
—Emily Dickinson

When I can’t find faith, I look for hope. Emily Dickinson’s poem brings me hope. I feel the rustling of feathers within me whenever I read this opening line to her poem. Some inner knowing awakens: “It’s going to be OK.” Even when it’s not, “It’s OK.” A paradox perhaps, but feelings don’t work by logic.

More than a feeling

The Psychology of Hope
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However, HOPE is more than a feeling or an emotion. In The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There From Here, C. R. Snyder defines hope as a mindset, a way of thinking.

“Hope is the sum of the mental willpower and waypower that you have for your goals.”

The mindset of hope requires:

  1. Goals: “I know where I want to go.” (even if vaguely)
  2. Willpower: “I know that I can do it.” (determination and commitment)
  3. Waypower: “I know how to get there.” (planning and mapping)

“Hope = Mental Willpower + Waypower for Goals”

As a “hopeful” message, C. R. Snyder tells us that HOPE is learned. It is not just a feeling that you have (or don’t have). It is a mindset, a way of looking at the world that you can learn (and teach kids).

  1. We can learn realistic goal-setting.
  2. We can gather the willpower and learn to put the necessary work into achieving our goals.
  3. And we can learn the waypower skills to create a plan to “get there from here”.

Hope is a mindset skill that we can all learn.

Hopeless to Hopeful

DoveHow do you get from hopeless to hopeful? There are many ways to find hope. While it is a mindset skill that is learned, hope is also a feeling. Learning and accessing the mindset skills of hope often begins with a feeling of hope. Hope often begins with just a “feeling” or a “knowing”, something in the chest that says, “Yes, I can do it!” or a knowing in the gut that says, “I’m going to be OK.”

Hope begins with a feeling

For inspiration and hope, I often turn to the poets. When everything seems hopeless, where do you find hope? Read the full poem by Emily Dickinson and see if it rustles your feathers of hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers  
That perches in the soul,  
And sings the tune without the words,  
And never stops at all,  
And sweetest in the gale is heard;          
And sore must be the storm  
That could abash the little bird  
That kept so many warm.  
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,  
And on the strangest sea;         
Yet, never, in extremity,  
It asked a crumb of me.
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