What Is Hope? Why It’s Important To Hope? [Psychology]


What does hope mean, and why hoping is important? And what do we know about the science and myth of hope?

What Is Hope

What exactly is hope?

Hope is a desire with a belief for something, especially something good, to happen. In general, hope means a positive wish for things to improve for the better, and to have a positive expectation for that better future.

According to Wikipedia:

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large. As a verb, its definitions include: “expect with confidence” and “to cherish a desire with anticipation.”

Hope includes little certitude, but it implies confidence in the possibility of that desire to realize. Plainspoken, hope is a desire with great expectations but little certainty.

Hope = Desire + Belief
  • To hope means you want an outcome that will improve your life.
  • To hope means you want to move ahead with a pleasant expectation of the future, and which makes the present hard situation endurable.
  • To hope means to believe that things will change for the better, and till that happens, you focus on the steps and actions to make hope work.

The essence of hope is caught quite well in this sentence:

When the young pair started their life together, they were full of hope.

Why Is Hope Important In Life

Why should we humans hope at all?

When you get down to it, you understand that hope doesn’t come with any promise of certainty. No, it’s futile to imagine that once we bear a hope, it will spring to life, for sure, like magic.

Perhaps, because of that, when the last hope is stolen from us, we also lose the last genuine smile. Without hope, from then on in this life of ours, we can only manage to paint fake happiness on our faces.

Within the core of hope is a strong belief. It sees possibilities where none exist, it propels farther to move towards a better future for ourselves and others around us.

In a way, hope is an antidote to our ‘hyperlogical’ forebrain.

Within the core of #hope is a strong belief. Click To Tweet

Whether one thinks about it or not, hope is a part of every human being’s life and an essential part of being human. Hope helps us define what we want for our future, and becomes one of the central protagonists in the story of our lives that we craft for ourselves.

The American Psychology Association, one of the most influential organizations in the field of human psychology, found in a study that the children who grew up in poverty and succeeded later in life had one thing in common: hope. Dr. Valerie Maholmes, who worked on the study, said that hope requires “planning, motivation, and determination” to achieve it.

Hope builds a bridge between the present and the future. And once we have a vision of what good things are to happen, the idea itself makes us feel better and happier.

Having hope is important for the act of being human itself. Dr. Judith Rich writes: “Hope is a match in a dark tunnel, a moment of light, just enough to reveal the path ahead and ultimately the way out.”

And Paul Doran contends:

Hope is a mixed bag of aspiration, desire, expectation, optimism, trust and belief. Hope allows us to imagine even slim possibilities. Hope embraces the future as unwritten and only retrospectively can a hope be seen as a pipe dream, vain hope or false hope.  In dire situations, we can hope beyond hope, hope against hope, see a glimmer of hope.

What Are The Benefits of Hope

Research shows people who score high in hope have better psychological health. That translates into lower levels of depression and anxiety, and higher levels of happiness and well-being.

High-hope people have been shown to cope better in burn injuries, spinal-cord injuries, severe arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and even cancer.

In college students, a study showed, hope can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Another study among college goers showed the more hopeful students showed greater all-around success, and more of them finished their graduation.

Not only that, people with better abilities to hope cope better in burns and spinal-cord injuries, severe arthritis, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and even cancer. They perform better in sports and academics.

Hope can help us manage stress and cope with adversity.

A Polish study found hope may increase the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs for people with psychosis.

Findings from a study suggest hope may be an important factor to help individuals manage potential threats to self-esteem in the experience of early stage dementia

An analysis of responses of 360 undergraduates showed that hope (along with extroversion and social support) were significantly linked with happiness. Moreover, hope happened to mediate the link between extroversion and happiness and social support and happiness.

Hope can even help one fight the fear of death. A study found religious hope may help people cope with feelings of death anxiety.

Hope allows us to approach problems with a positive mindset aiming at success, thereby increasing the chances for us to actually accomplish our goals.

Hope Science Myth

Barbara L. Fredrickson, principal investigator at the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory (PEP Lab) at the University of North Carolina, and author of Positivity, wrote in Psychology Today:

Hope is not the typical form of positivity that we know of; rather, it comes into play when our circumstances are dire… when fear, hopelessness or despair seem just as likely.

Fredrickson was echoing the elements of hope from Barack Obama’s July 2004 Democratic National Convention speech in which he said:

Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!

Positive Psychology of Hope

Hope in psychology is an overall perception that goals can be attained with beliefs and efforts. To hope means to have the agency and the pathways to go after the desired goals.

Psychology sees hope in terms of positive future expectations. However, the nature of hope varies from person to person. Hope is not static but evolves as circumstances change, and individuals rework their expectations.

Hope may defined as:

The degree to which an adolescent believes that a personal tomorrow exists; this belief spans four hierarchial levels proceeding from lower to higher levels of believing:

  1. Forced effort: the degree to which an adolescent tries to artificially take on a more positive view.
  2. Personal possibilities: the extent to which an adolescent believes that second changes for the self may exist.
  3. Expectation of a better tomorrow: the degree to which an adolescent has a positive though non-specific future orientation.
  4. Anticipation of a personal future: the extent to which an adolescent identifies specific and positive personal future possibilities.

Shane Lopez, the late positive psychologist, studied and researched hope extensively. He was a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the International Positive Psychology Association.

Lopez felt that hope is

the golden mean between euphoria and fear… a feeling where transcendence meets reason and caution meets passion.

Hope is also a desired trait of leadership. Interviewing a random sample of 10,000+ people, Gallup Organization researchers revealed that people wanted their leaders to meet these 4 psychological needs (Rath, T. & Conchie, B., 2009):

  1. Stability
  2. Trust
  3. Compassion
  4. Hope

Hope Theory: The Will And The Ways of Hope

Charles “Rick” Snyder, the M. Erik Wright Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, who passed away in 2006, proposed and developed the hope theory.

In his lifetime, he published six books on hope theory (one of them, Handbook of Hope), and wrote 262 articles about the impact of hope different facets of life.

Professor Snyder was fond of saying,

If you can’t laugh at yourself, you have missed the biggest joke of all.

If you can't laugh at yourself, you have missed the biggest joke of all. – C. R. Snyder Click To Tweet

Snyder’s Hope Theory brings scientific rigor to the age-old expression “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” He argued that there are 3 things that come together to create hopeful thinking:

  1. Goals – Finding meaningful and realistic goals is the first part. Aristotle defined goals as “action caused by purpose”.
  2. Pathways – Finding ways (pathways) to fulfill your goals. ‘Pathways thinking’ is understanding that one thing can lead to another.
  3. Agency – Belief and determination that you can change yourself, overcome obstacles, and achieve your goals. ‘Agency thinking’ is believing that you can make things happen.

To Hope is to have both the Will (Agency) and the Ways (Pathways) to go after desired Goals.

Hope Experiment: A Scientific Ice-Bucket Challenge

The late professor Christopher Peterson, author of A Primer In Positive Psychology, once wrote about an interesting experiment on how hope increases our tolerance to pain in a popular post:

In an interesting experiment, Carla Berg, Rick Snyder, and Nancy Hamilton (2008) used guided imagery in what they called a Hope Induction. For about 15 minutes, research participants were asked to think of an important goal and to imagine how they might achieve it.

A comparison condition asked participants to read a home organization book for 15 minutes. All participants were then asked to immerse their non-dominant hand in a bucket of ice water for as long as they could (up to five minutes). This is a standard measure of pain tolerance, and it is painful but not harmful.

Participants receiving the brief hope induction kept their hand immersed for about 150 seconds, whereas those in the comparison condition kept their hand immersed for about 90 seconds.

The experiment found high-hope participants tolerated the pain almost twice as longer as low-hope persons.

Hope increases our ability to tolerate pain. – Rick Snyder Click To Tweet

Pandora’s Box: The Myth of Hope

Pandora and Her Box of Hope

Created from clay, Pandora was the very first woman according to Greek mythology. Pandora was a gift to Epimetheus from the gods of Olympia. As a wedding present, Zeus gave her a box with a clear instruction to never open it.

However, Pandora did open the box out of curiosity. And in a whiff, all the evils that Zeus had locked inside — greed, strife, despair, corruption, agony, death, and the ilk — escaped into the world, causing troubles and misfortunes to the humankind.

Frightened at what she had done, she shut the lid close. But by the time she could close it, everything ill had escaped.

Only one thing remained inside: Hope.

If Hope stayed imprisoned in the jar, did it mean that human existence was fated for utter hopelessness? Or, does Hope ever get another chance to leave Pandora’s box?

As Pandora sat with deep remorse beside the box, she heard a fine whisper: “Let me out!”

Though terrified at first to release more trouble into the world, but she finally decided that it couldn’t do any more harm than was already done. So, she opened the box again — and out flew “a brightly winged creature!” Hope!

Hesiod, who is often called the “father of Greek didactic poetry”, in his poem, ‘Works and Days’ (700 BCE), describes Pandora and her box:

Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house,
she remained under the lip of the jar, and did not
fly away. Before [she could], Pandora replaced the
lid of the jar. This was the will of aegis-bearing
Zeus the Cloudgatherer.

But why was Hope there in the box in the first place, if it was good? And why couldn’t it escape before the lid was closed, if it was bad?

Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher and critic of culture, in Human All Too Human (1878), explaining the paradox above, argued that Hope was in fact an ill itself.

Nietzsche wrote:

Zeus did not wish man, however much he might be tormented by the other evils, to fling away his life, but to go on letting himself be tormented again and again. Therefore he gives Man hope; in reality it is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of Man.

Hope… is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of Man. — #Nietzsche Click To Tweet

American modern philosopher Richard McKay Rorty, however, held that hope serves as a promise or reason for expecting a better future, and without hope, a change is spiritually inconceivable.

How To Find Hope In Life

This needs a separate article, so we covered this in a full article here, or click the picture below:

How To Find Hope In Life
How To Find Hope In Life When Sad And Depressed

Final Words: I Hope You Dance

We close this with a beautiful, 2001 Grammy winning song by country music singer Lee Ann Womack: I Hope You Dance. She said of the song in an interview to Billboard,

Certainly, it can represent everything a parent hopes for their child, but it can also be for a relationship that’s ending as a fond wish for the other person’s happiness or for someone graduating, having a baby, or embarking on a new path.

Lee Ann Womack - I Hope You Dance (Official Music Video)

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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.

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