It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or doubtful about how our individual actions might matter when considering global issues like coronavirus, systemic racism, or climate change.
However, according to researchers who specialize in positive psychology, cultivating optimism may be quite effective: it can assist us reach our objectives even when things appear frightening or uncertain.
We’ll look at what hope is (and how it differs from optimism), how it benefits us, and ways to enhance our own levels of hope—as well as how we can encourage hope in our wider communities.
What is the definition of hope for psychologists?
According to psychologist Everett Worthington, “hope isn’t Pollyanna-like optimism – the notion that a good outcome is guaranteed.
Instead, hope is a motivation to persevere toward a goal or end state, even if we are doubtful that a positive outcome is likely.”
In other words, hope doesn’t imply assuming things will automatically work out, but it does involve a sense of purpose and drive to keep going in the face of difficult odds.
Hope, according to psychologist Charles Snyder and his colleagues at the University of Kansas who formulated hope theory, has two parts: pathways thinking and agency.
Pathways thinking entails being able to consider a variety of options in order to achieve a goal.
The feeling of being in control is an important aspect of self-esteem.
It encourages people to work hard, be optimistic, and feel confident that they can achieve their objectives.
To assess pathways thinking, psychologists might ask someone how much they agree with the statement “There are a plethora of solutions to every problem.”
Psychologists may ask individuals if they believe they have the ability to affect their environment and whether they feel in control of their lives.
Agency thinking reflects the belief that we are not victims of circumstance, but rather masters of our own fate.
What Is the Difference Between Optimism and Hope?
According to studies, hope and optimism are linked—more hopeful individuals also tend to be more optimistic—but the two ideas have significant differences.
According to Snyder and his colleagues, one of the key distinctions between hope and optimism is that hope focuses on agency.
Professor Utpal Dholakia writes in a Psychology Today blog post that optimistic individuals don’t simply trust in the goodness of things—they also believe that their actions may help them achieve their goals.
As a result, faith could be particularly beneficial for them.
He continues, “while hope centers on pathways thinking (the belief that there are many ways to achieve a goal), optimism is about expecting positive outcomes (the belief that a good outcome is likely).
Hope also entails a sense of agency—the feeling that we can control our environment and our destiny.
In contrast, optimism does not necessarily entail the belief that we are in control of our circumstances.”
When the chips are down, and we need a powerful shot of motivation to help us discover new methods to reach our goal and propel us forward towards its completion,” Dholakia suggests.
What Are the Benefits of Hope?
Improved Mental Health
People who have more hope in their lives are generally happier, according to neuroscientists. People who have a lot of hope in their lives are healthier, according to psychologists.
In a study published last year led by researcher Katelyn Long of Harvard University, researchers looked at levels of hope and well-being among almost 13,000 participants.
The study found that those individuals with higher levels of hope also reported better mental health overall.
What is the connection between hope and well-being?
According to Snyder and his colleagues, hopeful individuals may cope with distressing events in a healthier way: they are less likely to avoid the issue, are more likely to think of several solutions, and are more likely to be able to find silver linings in the situation.
They’re also less prone to anxiety and depression.
In another study, this one published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, researchers looked at the effects of hope therapy on people with mental health disorders.
They found that hope therapy was effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as increasing levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction.
Greater Life Satisfaction and Purpose
In another study, this time published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers looked at how hope influenced life satisfaction and purpose in life.
The study found that people with high levels of hope were more likely to report greater life satisfaction and purpose.
Excellent Academic Performance
The concept of hope can help us get closer to our objectives, but it may also be beneficial in the context of academic success.
Researchers tracked college students’ levels of hope throughout their first year of school and then followed them for the next six years.
They discovered that students who were more hopeful graduated with higher GPAs and were more likely to complete their degrees.
Improved physical health
The researchers point out that hope appears to have health benefits as well.
People who are more hopeful, according to Snyder and his colleagues, are more likely to exercise.
Hope seems to be linked to higher levels of life satisfaction in people with long-term diseases, according to a 2017 study.
The study by Long and her colleagues provided additional evidence for the relationship between optimism and physical health.
People with greater levels of hope at the start of the research were less likely to be diagnosed with cancer or develop chronic pain, according to the researchers.
Even higher levels of hope were linked to a decreased risk of mortality, suggesting that hopeful individuals may live longer lives.
In a study of nearly 1,700 people with heart failure, those who had higher levels of hope were more likely to survive over the next four years.
How to Raise Your Hope Level
In difficult times, keep hope alive.
Many psychologists have discovered that there are a variety of methods we may utilize to maintain hope in difficult and overwhelming circumstances.
Perhaps the first step is to accept the reality that there is always hope.
Let me repeat myself: regardless of how terrible or desperate a scenario may appear, there is always hope.
The most frequent cognitive distortion linked to hopelessness is known as “abandoning ship.”
Abandoning ship occurs when we think that a negative situation is so overwhelming and hopeless that there is no point in trying to find a solution.
Hope can be activated by focusing on small steps.
When faced with a problem, try thinking of the minor victories as well as major milestones you will have to overcome.
This type of cognitive distortion involves making a negative prediction about the future, and it is often linked to feelings of hopelessness.
For example, you may think “I’ll never get out of this mess,” or “This will never end.”
When these thoughts come up, try to replace them with more hopeful alternatives.
For example, you might say to yourself “I’m going to get through this,” or “This is only a temporary setback.”
How to cultivate hope
According to psychologist Everett Worthington, we should seek out inspirational media (such as a favorite podcast) and find “heroes of hope” to turn to when we’re feeling stuck or uninspired: he offers the examples of Nelson Mandela and Katherine Johnson, the mathematician who inspired the movie Hidden Figures.
Start compiling a list of inspiring stuff now, so you’ll have it at the ready when you need it.
When we engage in meaningful work – such as volunteering our time to help others – we can begin to see our problems in a new light.
We may start to feel like we have more control over our lives and that we’re capable of making a difference.
In order to raise our hope level, it’s important that we’re gentle and forgiving with ourselves. When we’re kind and compassionate towards ourselves, we’re more likely to take risks and explore new possibilities.
Being a source of hope for others
According to Snyder and his associates, hope theory can be applied to both people and groups.
When we’re dealing with significant societal challenges, growing optimism may help us achieve progress across the board.
As an example, education professor Sarah Stitzlein notes that it is critical for teachers to develop a sense of political optimism in students by assisting students in learning about real-world concerns and coming up with methods of subverting the current paradigm. The Parkland kids are an excellent example.
According to psychologists, hope is an essential element of mental health.
We all have bad days where everything seems bleak and hopeless, but these are just part of the journey of life.
It’s important that we don’t lose our sense of wonder or optimism about what lies ahead on the road map.
It’s evident that there are many benefits to keeping hope alive.
In this article, we’ve explored a few ways to activate and cultivate hope in difficult times. We’ve also looked at how hope can be contagious and inspire change in others.
So the next time you find yourself struggling, remember that there is always hope. You are not alone. And there are many things you can do to make yourself feel better.