Hope is a feeling of trust, a security, and a reason to keep going. It is a passionate desire of our heart. It is a feeling of expectation and a longing for a certain thing to happen.Verity Russell
Hope is a powerful word that keeps us on a path. It is a driving force that things will be better, that things can be better. Hope gives us purpose. It keeps us alive. It drives us, inspires us, and moves us to do and have more. Talent, skill, ability—whatever you want to call it—alone will not get you there. Psychological research demonstrates that it’s the psychological avenues that do get you there. Psychologists have proposed lots of different avenues over the years. Grit, self-efficacy, optimism, passion, inspiration, etc. They are all important. One however, that is particularly undervalued and underappreciated in psychology and society is hope.
Hope is not a new concept in psychology. In 1991, the eminent psychologist Charles R. Snyder and his colleagues came up with Hope Theory. They found that when we are hopeful, we not only develop appropriate and challenging goals but believe that we have the ability to achieve them despite the challenges that may lie ahead. Hopeful people encounter challenges or difficulties with the belief that better times and things lie ahead. The person who has it has the will and determination that goals will be achieved, and a set of different strategies at their disposal to reach their goals. Put simply: hope involves the will to get there, and different ways to get there. Those without it do not set goals, or set goals that are too easy or next-to-impossible to achieve. They then get either bored or dejected and quit.
Hope is important because life is difficult. There are many obstacles. Having goals is not enough. One has to keep getting closer to those goals, amidst all the inevitable twists and turns of life. It allows people to approach problems with a mindset and strategy-set suitable to success, thereby increasing the chances they will actually accomplish their goals. It is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system. Under this conceptualization of hope, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way round. Hope-related cognitions are important. It leads to learning goals, which are conducive to growth and improvement. People with learning goals are actively engaged in their learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track. A bulk of research shows that learning goals are positively related to success across a wide swatch of human life—from academic achievement to sports to arts to science to business. Further, studies have found that hopeful people earn higher grade point averages, are more likely to graduate from high school and college, and generate more and higher quality ideas in the workplace. Those who remain hopeful rate higher on measures of overall happiness.
Those lacking it, on the other hand, tend to adopt mastery goals. People with mastery goals choose easy tasks that don’t offer a challenge or opportunity for growth. When they fail, they quit. People with mastery goals act helpless, and feel a lack of control over their environment. They don’t believe in their capacity to obtain the kind of future they want. They have no hope.
Pediatrician Smita Malholtra identified five characteristics of resilient, or hopeful, people;
- they practice mindfulness, which she describes as “the art of paying attention to your life on purpose.” They pay attention not only to what is wrong but also what is right in their lives.
- they resist the urge to compare themselves to others, “they are their own measuring stick of success.”
- they see every setback as an opportunity for transformation. Instead of devastating us, challenges offer stepping stones for change.
- they maintain a sense of humor, finding opportunities to laugh even at the mundane, a quality associated with lower blood pressure and increased vascular blood flow.
- they do not seek excessive control but rather are willing to go with the flow, adapting as needed.
Shane Lopez, Ph.D, found that hope can be learned by practicing more of those things we are excited about and to surround ourselves with people who are hopeful. People who have experienced great trauma but survived, even thrived, have much to teach others about hope and resilience. As Lopez explains, “It has the power to make bad times temporary.” People who have it have both the ability to respond in negative times but are also initiators, ultimately, they are the people who have the most power to effect change.
Gandhi was hopeful. Martin Luther King Jr. was hopeful. Mother Theresa was hopeful. Indeed, all of the people associated with nonviolent social change have much to teach us about confronting obstacles. We often think that our current ability is the best predictor of our future success. Psychological studies show that ability is important, but it is the way we get to where we want to go that is the most important thing. The avenues we take. If we never take an avenue then we can never reach our destination. Hope and its benefits is one of the most important avenues of all.