FOR THE LOVE OF RELATIONSHIPS – The Science of hope

Years ago, when I was attending a youth development symposium with over a hundred high-functioning social scientists and behavioral specialists, the professor asked, “If you could impart one thing to young people to help them succeed, what would it be? All of us were stumped. Really one thing??? The professor let us collectively go through a head scratching exercise before giving his answer. He said, “Hope” and there was an audible gasp.

Hope is a hallmark of psychological health meaning that those who are hopeful have a positive expectation about the future. Research outlines that people who have hope are empowered with adaptive responses to challenges. They are motivated to persevere, to think positively and to be creative problem solvers. They keep their expectations and goals high and are empowered to accomplish and create. They are like a dog with a bone. 

Tenacity is borne out of hope and optimism.  An individual’s hope is an internal mechanism that is subject to power and personal control. Another dimension of hope is stability which can be explained by the metaphor of a rutter on a boat. Subtle changes of the rutter moves the boat in different directions getting to a planned destination. Studies demonstrate that individuals possessing hope have a higher likelihood of accomplishing goals. Among individuals with low hope, utilizing a Hope Scale, the measurement of effort and persistence were significantly lower. 

Another indicator of the hope research was described in positive and negative feelings.

When people expect positive outcomes, they are apt to feel relatively good about their current situation, even if it is a challenging one.  These individuals experience less frustration, distress, and depression. Conversely, those with negative feelings will be more likely to  have lower expectations and experience more stressors, trauma, difficulty with interpersonal relationships, coping mechanisms, substance use,  academic achievement,  goal setting, decreased self-esteem and physical well-being.  Researchers acknowledge that hope can be overly positive, and that hopeful people are not always aware of when or how they sustain their positive outlook. 

What are the implications of this research especially as we face so many emotional, economic, political, and global challenges? The takeaway is that hope must be cultivated as a rational response to the condition of being invested in the future whether the basis of such investment is perceived as wise or unrealistic.  When circumstances around us are desperate, hope feels like an illusion.  Hope is a self-fulfilling belief about a positive future. Hope can and must be cultivated for those that are hopeless and depressed. We must walk alongside those without hope, give them skills and strategies to be successful, help them create a vision of a positive future. On the way to that future, they must experience some success because, success breeds success. As the Center for Relationship Education works to caste a vision for the most vulnerable students we serve, imparting skills and strategies for a successful and rich life, we are building hope and optimism. According to the professor, it is essential for success. joneen@myrelationshipcenter.org