What Is Hope?
Hope is not merely an emotion.
Hope does not mean having a pollyannish approach to situations in life.
Oxford English Dictionary defines hope: “a feeling of expectation and desire for something to happen.”
But hope is also more than mere desire and better than mere expectation.
Hope is directly related to our sense of possibilities.
Hope is indispensable if you want to endure difficult circumstances without giving up or sinking into a deep depression.
And hope is not passive. To sit and wait is the same as “wishing” that gets you nowhere.
To hope means to have positive thoughts about your future and to be willing to take the steps necessary to make it happen.
Hope means to roll up your sleeves and work!
Let me illustrate with a story—
I read a book by Jose Saramago titled Blindness, published in 1995. The book won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.
Many consider this book Saramago’s dystopic vision, which means an imaginary place or society where everything is profoundly unhappy and miserable.
I’ve never read a more unusual book. There’s mass blindness that pictures a loss of humanity.
Here is a brief plot summary as described on wikispaces.com:
‘”Blindness”’ tells the story of several individuals engulfed in a widespread epidemic of ‘white blindness,’ in which they only see bright white. The government quickly interns all the blind and those in contact with them in an old mental hospital facility.
“To stay with her now-blind husband, an ophthalmologist’s wife fakes her blindness into a new hell.
“A story of survival against an army of ‘liquidators’ and sacrifice, ensues during which the last remaining seeing woman leads the internees.”
So much happens to the characters in this book (the characters have no names, only descriptions).
For instance, though helpless and interdependent, their behaviors are reduced to no more than animals.
They act worse than savages; they fight over food, commit rape, and murder. There is a total breakdown of what makes people human.
But “the doctor’s wife” never loses hope.
In her compassion, she claws and scratches and schemes and even commits a murder herself.
In the end, when there seems to be no way out of “hell,” it is she, as the only person in the asylum not afflicted with blindness, that leads the group out of the asylum and helps them survive in the city.
For me, the critical thought in this story is “hope.”
No, hope isn’t passive; it’s a willingness to put into action steps to shape and invest in your future; it’s a positive outlook on your future.
“Hope,” as a possession of the Christian faithful, for instance, means an expectation or desire for everlasting life.
However, the author Jose Saramago is an atheist Communist and believes religion is the cause of all humankind’s ills—including violence.
So as an atheist, did Saramago intend that one of his main characters should have hope?
Do atheists have hope?
We know that for many of the religious, hope gives peace of mind for what lies ahead.
But atheists will say hope is a religious construct and that people experience hope apart from religion.
There are many things to hope for: health, wellness, and happiness; for the power to make a better life for self and family, and so forth.
So even though Saramago as an atheist, would suggest no thought of religion or faith in a higher power, there’s no question in my mind that in his book Blindness, it is hope that propels “the doctor’s wife” to take action—and win.
Is There a Science of Hope?
One example is Charles Richard Snyder (1944-2006). Snyder was an American psychologist that specialized in positive psychology. He developed what’s known as Snyder’s Hope Theory.
According to Snyder:
“Hope can be seen as the perceived ability to walk certain paths leading to the desired destination. Also, hope helps people stay motivated when walking these paths.”
There are three components related to hope:
- Focused thoughts (or goals thinking)
- Developed strategies in advance to achieve goals (or pathways thinking)
- Motivated to make an effort required to reach goals (or agency thinking)
“Hope: A positive feeling and a state of motivation that arises from the beliefs that one has agency (power and ability) and pathways (means) to achieve one’s goals.”
As in the book Blindness, “the doctor’s wife” believed in her capacity; she schemed, and in her goal-directed determination (she developed the feeling of hope) finally succeeded in her plan, which saves the people in the asylum.
Envisioning a better future motivates you to take steps to make it happen.
In the final analysis, hope is about having goals or mental targets of your future, pathways or routes to reach them, and agency or the mental energy to persevere.
For a detailed discussion on Snyder’s Hope Theory, please visit:
You will find additional questions about hope, activities and exercises, useful hope worksheets, and other references on the website.
Health Benefits of Hope
Hope affects our minds and bodies.
Casey Gwinn, J.D., and Chan Hellman, Ph.D., authors of the award-winning book, Hope Rises: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life, recognize measurable science around hope and maintain that “hope is the most predictive indicator of well-being in a person’s life.”
“Hope Rising provides a roadmap to measure hope in your life, assess what may have robbed you of the power of hope, and then provides strategies to increase hope.”
According to Jerome Groopman, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and staff writer in medicine and biology for The New Yorker, “Belief and expectation – the key elements of hope – can block pain by releasing the brain’s endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine.”
Research has shown that women with high hope are more likely to implement cancer-prevention activities in their lives than women with low hope. And high hope people in general cope better while recovering from serious injuries.
- Ensures increased life satisfaction scores
- Promotes better lifestyle habits (“hope for the future”)
- Lowers the levels of depression and anxiety
- Improves overall general health
- Boosts your immune system
- It makes you happy!
What Can Cause You to Lose Hope?
Many things can and do go wrong in life.
In adults, losing a loved one in death or divorce is the leading cause of losing hope.
Losing the means to make a living and support family is also high on the list of causes for losing hope.
Living through a major illness or other traumatic events can lead to hopelessness.
And as I write this article, worldwide, we are grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Millions have died.
Many more millions have become ill.
The economies in most countries throughout the world are in shamble.
Has hope diminished?
What can you do?
Here are a few tips to avoid losing hope:
- Be grateful (a recurring theme in this article).
- Look forward.
- Ignore negative people and situations.
- Don’t worry.
- Choose positive friends.
- Look to others for support.
- Speak with a therapist for depression.
What Can Be Said About Optimism?
“Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.”—William James
Are you a glass half empty or a glass half full type of person?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, optimism means “confidence about the future or successful outcome of something.”
So, can optimism improve your health?
According to a study in the Journal of American Medical Association, a positive outlook on life is good for your heart.
Dr. Richa Sood, a Mayo Clinic General Internist, agrees.
“Optimism is a mindset,” says Dr. Sood.
If you purposefully choose to think positively regularly, the brain will eventually form new pathways; you will become more optimistic.
Dr. Sood offers three ways to train the brain to make optimism a habit:
- Gratitude. Feeling grateful for the good things in your life and having a sense of meaning and purpose in your life.
- Build self-worth. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and appreciate you.
- Improve your health. Exercise, eat nutritious foods, keep your weight under control, and stay away from toxins, such as trans fats and mercury in fish.
Most of us have to deal with the daily pressures of everyday life. These can lead to frustration, even panic.
A pessimistic person sees defeat or a setback as permanent—even blaming herself for the situation. An optimistic person has confidence in the future.
In a 30-year study of over 800 patients by the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, U.S.A. scientists found that optimists had better health and lived significantly longer than others.
The researchers also found that optimists coped better with stress and therefore, less likely to develop depression.
Other benefits of optimism include:
- It promotes a sense of happiness and well-being.
- It promotes self-confidence and boosts self-esteem.
- It enables you to take action to change or improve situations.
- It promotes better feelings about money.
- It allows you to bounce back quickly from any adversity.
- It enables you to enjoy your work regardless of your job.
- It promotes peace of mind in situations over which you have no control.
However, being optimistic is not easy, especially in an environment where problems stack up for almost everyone. It’s tough to think positively.
Three tips to feel more optimistic:
- When you find yourself thinking that you won’t enjoy something or you won’t succeed in some project, reject the thought. Focus on the positive
- Look for friends who view life positively (the glass half-full attitudes)
- Every day, write down three good things that happened to you; be grateful.
“A cheerful heart is a good medicine.” –Proverbs 17:22
Finally, you might wonder:
How Is Hope Different from Optimism?
Hope and optimism are often used interchangeably and may be simultaneously intrinsic to each other.
Both are positive motivational states.
Both involve clear expectations of desired outcomes in the future.
However, hope is not the same as optimism.
One study in the Journal of Positive Psychology suggests that people can be very optimistic but only mildly hopeful or vice versa. Also, “pathways predicted life satisfaction to a greater degree than optimism.”
“Hope,” as described above in Snyder’s Hope Theory, is the ability to work to an action plan to reach a goal. A person with goal-directed thinking is motivated and has the mental willpower to keep at it until he succeeds.
“Optimism,” on the other hand, is a positive expectation about something and does not need working for it.
Hope is first a cognitive rather than an emotional process, according to Snyder.
Some believe that hope is the deepest of the three emotions, and that happiness and optimism cannot exist without hope, but hope can exist without happiness and optimism.
Here is a quote to further help you understand the difference between hope and optimism:
“Optimism and hope are not the same. Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better.”—Jonathan Sacks
So, What Do You Think?
Now that you’ve read Snyder’s Hope Theory know the science behind hope, and understand that hope is an action-oriented strength and not just a state of mind, and recognize the many benefits of hope to your health and happiness, what will you do?
“A rainbow is a prism that sends shards of multicolored light in various directions. It lifts our spirit and makes us think of what is possible. Hope is the same—a personal rainbow of the mind.”
How will you incorporate hope into your life?
What will hope do for you to have unshakable hope, to focus on a specific vision for the future, and then follow through with an action plan as with “the doctor’s wife” in the book Blindness?
Hope is action, not wishing.
And what of optimism?
What are some ways you will embrace optimism in the future—look at the bright side of life?
After reading and pondering on this article, what do hope and optimism mean for you?