What Do We Know About The Science of Hope

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science of hope
When our hopes are stolen from us, we also lose our genuine smiles. There on, we paint fake happiness on our faces. What do we know about the science of hope?

Hope is a desire with an expectation for something, especially something good, to happen.

Hope includes little certainty, but it implies confidence in the possibility of that desire to realize. So, it’s a desire with great expectation but little certainty.

The essence of hope is caught quite well in this sentence: When the young pair started their life together, they were full of hope.

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, it is an antidote to our ‘hyperlogical’ forebrain.

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

Why Do You Need Hope

Why should we hope at all? When you get down to it, you understand that it doesn’t come with a promise of certainty – that once we hope, it will spring to life, for sure, like magic.

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

Research shows that 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. In college, more hopeful students showed greater all-around success, and more of them finished their graduation.

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

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 a 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.

She was echoing elements from Barack Obama’s July 2004 Democratic National Convention speech: “Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!”

Ship of Hope

What’s Inside Hope

Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D., Research Director of the Clifton Strengths Institute, and world’s leading researcher on hope, in his book Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself, proposes that hopeful people share 4 core beliefs:

  1. The future will be better than the present.
  2. I have the power to make it so.
  3. There are many paths to my goals.
  4. None of them is free of obstacles.

Lopez feels 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

The Hope Theory

Charles “Rick” Snyder, a professor of Psychology and the M. Erik Wright Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of 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.

The Hope Experiment

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 that 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

Inside Pandora’s Box

Pandora and Her Box of Hope

Created from clay, Pandora was the very first woman according to Greek mythology. Pandora and Epimethius lived in a world of happiness and bliss. As a wedding gift, she was given a box (jar) by Zeus with instruction not to 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.

Does Hope ever get another chance to leave the Pandora’s box?

When Pandora sat with deep remorse at the box, she heard a fine whisper. “Let me out!” Terrified at first to release more trouble into the world, 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, 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.

Final Words

Tragedies as those that happened in Paris leave us with a certain hopelessness along with the deep sadness. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said of the moment:

This evening is a moment of pain and mourning. But Paris is still here and standing. … The joie de vivre that is part of this city, [the attackers] have not touched that.

On moments as these, the words of Gandhi on hope make deep sense:

When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it—always.

That is the audacity of hope.

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