Scientifically, This Is How To Make Hope Work For You

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How To Make Hope Work For You

It’s often said if you’re determined enough, you can find ways to achieve what you want, even if it is difficult. Psychologists prove this to be true. But how to make hope work?

In plain-speak, hope is a desire for a thing to happen. It is an anticipation, an aspiration, an expectation. It’s not “wishful thinking”; what makes it different is that within hope lies a core of ‘belief’ – that is the essence of hope.

But, however much strong its core of belief, the outer shell of hope is fuzzy – made of uncertainty. What we hope for may not eventually happen, and the joys that we pegged upon those hopes may possibly come to naught.

So, if hoping means we have to desire positively while embracing uncertainty, is it not a purposeless endeavor? Should we hope at all?

The Science of Hope

Should we hope? Yes, sure.

The science says so. Research has found that high-hope people have lower levels of depression and anxiety, and higher levels of happiness and well-being. 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.

Dr Shane J Lopez, Senior Scientist, leading researcher on hope, and author of Making Hope Happen, defines hope as “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.”

Shane Lopez says to hope successfully — and knock off some degrees of uncertainty — we must begin with the following 4 core beliefs:

  1. Future will be better than your present
  2. You have the power to make it better
  3. There are many paths to your goals
  4. None of those paths are free of obstacles

As Zen master, global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”

How To Make Hope Work?

Traditionally, throughout various cultures, we have been told since our childhood the cliché that “where there is a will, there is a way.” This means if you’re determined enough, you can find ways to achieve what you want, even if it is difficult. Experiments by psychologists have taken this further and proved that there is indeed a pound of truth in it.


In their 1991 paper, Snyder, Irving & Anderson defined hope as “a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful agency and pathways.”

Dr Charles “Rick” Snyder , the late professor of psychology at University of Kansas, who dedicated his life to researching hope, laid out a model that requires three things to come together to create hopeful thinking:

  1. Goals
  2. Pathways
  3. Agency

1. Goals

While we all know what goals mean, here are a few tips for setting them. You should be sure that your goal is something you want for yourself, not what others want of you. Your goals should be stretching you beyond your comfort zones. You must allocate time for working uninterrupted on each of your goals.

2. Pathways

Once goals are set, it’s time to recognize that there can be several ways to reach them. Then choose the best way for each. You may break down a long “pathway” into small steps, and start working on the first step. And prepare yourself for the situations when you may run into blockades – that is, have a Plan B in your kitty.

3. Agency

Agency is the capacity to make our choices and exercise our power in the world. Agency is of two types – involuntary and intentional. It is the second type, the intentional or the goal-directed agency that is required here. We should be talking to ourselves in “can do” voices. We should be viewing problems as challenges. We should be reminding ourselves of our earlier successes when there are logjams. And, of course, we should enjoy the journey to our goals itself!

How Optimism Is Not Same As Hope

While both are positive states, the way one differs from another is that hope is situation-specific, while optimism is quite independent of external conditions. While hope is a state of mind, optimism is usually seen as a natural mental outlook.

Michael Scheier and Charles Carver in 1985 defined optimism “as a generalized expectancy that good… outcomes will generally occur when confronted with problems across important life domains.”

Final Words

We must hope, especially in situations that seem insurmountable and dire. Because those of us who keep high hope, we set out on our journey with determination and grit, we view the obstacles on the road not as barriers, but as challenges, and we always have a Plan B.

As Tupac Shakur (now 2Pac) sang, “The trick is to never lose hope!”


Using discoveries from the largest study of hopeful people ever conducted, Shane J. Lopez, PhD, reveals that hope is not just an emotion but an essential life tool. With Making Hope Happen, you can measure your level of hope and learn how to increase, use, and share it.

“Shane Lopez, the world’s preeminent expert on hope, shares his expertise and wisdom on what hope is, how to create more of it in your life, and how to teach it to others, with the aim of meeting your goals, leading a happier, more flourishing life, and making the world a better place,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of the happiness bestseller The How of Happiness.

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This post originally appeared on Happify Daily. Written by the same author.

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