WHAT IS HOPE?
When people are going through tough times, they will often say, “I hope things get better soon.” People may also feel hopeful when they are dreaming about a positive future. They may hope that they will get a new job or feel hopeful that they will meet a romantic partner to spend the rest of their life with. Historically speaking, hope has been viewed as both a psychological strength and a liability. Philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas and much later Soren Kierkegaard, for example, viewed hope as a central virtue that played a vital role in human action and communion with God, whereas philosophers such as Rene Descartes and Friedrich Nietzsche viewed hope as desire absent of agency and largely dismissed it as an irrational and unproductive form of thinking.
Formal psychological perspectives on hope did not appear until the twentieth century. In the 1960s and 1970s, hope was studied as “positive expectation,” and in the early 1990s, Charles R. Snyder introduced the most influential psychological theory on hope, hope theory. Since Snyder’s hope theory, there has been growing interest in exploring hope empirically. This has led to insights about the importance of hope for health and human progress as well as formal interventions and informal strategies to spread hope.
In this report, I discuss how social researchers define and measure hope and review empirical research on the benefits of hope for individuals and communities, as well as research on interventions and strategies that build hope. Finally, based on this research, I offer recommendations to spread hope.
Snyder’s hope theory presents hope as both a desire and a mindset that plays an important role in human motivation and agency. First, hope involves a person’s desire to realize some positive outcome or avoid a negative outcome. Snyder referred to desired outcomes as goals. Hope theory also considers hope to be a mindset or way of thinking about goals that supports commitment, motivation, and progress. Specifically, the theory outlines two types of thinking: pathway thinking and agency thinking, that make up the hopeful mindset.
Pathway thinking, the first aspect of the hopeful mindset, involves a person’s thinking about the routes or strategies they will take when pursuing their goals. Hopeful people will be able to identify and commit to a course of action to pursue their goals. Hopeful people will also be flexible to come up with new courses of action for accomplishing a goal when they encounter obstacles or if their initial pathway is blocked.
Agency thinking, the second aspect of the hopeful mindset, involves the general and enduring belief that you will achieve your goals. Snyder considers agency thinking to be the motivational aspect of hope, the aspect that drives or inspires people to engage in goal-related action, and the confidence people need to persist and not be deterred by setbacks.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HOPE?
A growing body of empirical research indicates that a hopeful mindset has several personal benefits. Based on research, here are some of the individual and community benefits of hope:
- Hope benefits well-being; it promotes happiness, life satisfaction, meaning in life, and relationships and belonging.
- Hope benefits mental health; it promotes coping with loss and chronic stressors, resilience to trauma, resilience to loneliness and lack of social belonging, and mental illness recovery.
- Hope benefits physical health; it promotes health goals, preventative health behaviors, and adjustment to chronic disease.
- Hope benefits students performance, athletic pursuits, careers and organizations, and parenting.
- Hope promotes community service.
- Hope promotes community action to address societal issues.
- Hope plays a significant role in the process of immigrants adapting to, learning about, and being successful in their new communities.
- Hope promotes tolerance and conflict resolution.
HOW CAN WE INCREASE HOPE?
Researchers have developed several promising interventions that have been tested on a variety of groups and contexts in the United States and around the world.
The research on hope suggests that there are simple strategies beyond formal interventions to spread hope. Leaders, for example, can spread hope by inspiring confidence among their followers that a desired outcome will be achieved. Research in the workplace, for example, indicates that employees are more hopeful when they work for a hopeful boss. Other research suggests that exposure to hopeful messages from leaders promotes hope among followers, particularly if people feel their leaders are credible and trustworthy. Perhaps trustworthy leaders give people confidence that their hopeful visions will come to pass.
Hope can also be spread person-to-person in groups. Hope Therapy and other formal hope interventions are delivered in groups, in part, because communing with others helps with the spread of hope. In Hope Therapy, for example, participants share their goals and visions of hope with one another and talk through strategies for achieving them. People also help one another refine their goals, hold one another accountable, and encourage one another to believe that they will achieve them. Sharing of hope can also bring people, and different groups of people, together or help a minority group connect with their community.
Organizations and programs may also spread hope by focusing on personal goals and/or providing training/support for setting goals and strategies for staying motivated and pursuing goals. Indeed, several research studies have found that programs that focus on goals inspire hope.
Other research has found that daily journaling about goals can help with the spread of hope. Thus, hope can be spread by an explicit focus on goals, motivation, and action even without knowledge of the hope theory or the guided instruction on goal setting, pathways, and agency thinking found in Hope Therapy. Helping people set attainable and measurable goals, guiding them through identifying flexible pathways to attaining goals, and helping them recognize and celebrate progress toward goals to build and affirm beliefs that they can be successful can go a long way in spreading hope and promoting human action and flourishing.
Taken together, hope is a goal-focused mindset and an expectation that one will achieve some desired outcome. People feel hopeful when they can see a path to attaining a goal and when they feel confident that they will achieve their goal. The empirical research indicates that hope is a psychological strength rather than a liability. Hopeful people are more driven and motivated to grow and achieve in a variety of life domains, and they tend to be overall healthier psychologically and physically. This is because hope is a resilience factor. Holding on to hope helps people to persist through adversity and overcome challenges.
Hope also helps people identify productive coping strategies and solutions to prevent negative psychological outcomes. Hope’s benefits extend beyond the individual and impact communities by orienting people toward community service and action and by encouraging them to find common ground to resolve conflict and push toward cooperation and community growth/achievement. There are formal interventions, like Hope Therapy, to promote hope. However, simple strategies inspired by hope theory can help with the spread of hope. For example, influential leaders can spread hope by sharing credible visions of hope and help create opportunities for citizens to share their hopes and dreams, find common ground, and support one another. Hope can also be spread by an explicit focus on goals, by creating opportunities to help people set attainable and measurable goals, by supporting their development of realistic pathways, and by bolstering their motivation and belief in their ability to realize their hopes.
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