Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of “The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free
Hope, according to Shane Lopez, is an equal opportunity resource. You needn’t be rich or exceptionally smart or athletic to be hopeful. It is a feeling that can be fostered no matter your life circumstances.
And although it’s possible to experience hope regardless of your situation in life, Lopez, senior scientist at Gallup and author of the book “Making Hope Happen” has found that people who are hopeful have certain things in common.
Hopeful people are often pragmatic and more likely to take action to cope with adversity, according to Lopez in the Monitor on Psychology (October 2013). And their pragmatism and action often pay off. Hope is associated with a myriad of positive life events, such as academic achievement and lowered risk of death.
So what is hope and how can someone become more hopeful?
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Charles R. Snyder, PhD, a pioneer in hope research developed the definition of hope as having goals, a belief we can shape our lives, the motivation to reach a desired goal and a plan to get there.
Optimism and hope are closely related. The feeling that good things will happen is closely linked to the hope for positive results that is typically focused on a specific goal or area of life.
However, hope shouldn’t be confused with wishing. Wishing has more of a quality of fantasy, while hope, according to Jon G. Allen, a senior staff psychologist at The Menniger Clinic, is practical and focused on reality.
Take goals, motivation, pragmatic action, optimism and add to that social connections, which have been identified as fundamental to hopefulness, and you’ve got the ingredients of hope.
But what if you just don’t happen to be one of those people who tend to be more hopeful? According to Allen, most people can find some reason for hope, even those who have experienced extensive trauma.
The goal, according to Allen, is not to replace painful emotions, such as fear or doubt, but to generate hope and allow it to exist alongside those emotions.
So what can trigger feelings of hope, when you’re feeling stuck or in despair? People report a wide array of experiences, including past successes, family, and faith in God, as well as small things, such as a sliver of light coming through a window or a small accomplishment.
Other methods to engender feelings of hope? Humor seems to play a role. Having a good laugh or watching a funny movie can make people feel more hopeful. One study found that participants were more hopeful after watching a humorous video (Humor, 2003).
We can also generate hope with a more systematic approach. Psychologists begin by helping people envision specific future goals in such a way that the goal comes alive. Then, create pathways toward the goal. In this step, you’d ask yourself, what would you have to do to reach that goal? Generate as many pathways as possible. We tend to experience more hope, when we feel there are multiple ways to accomplish what we want.
Creating hope takes hard work. The next two steps include working towards your goal and planning for contingencies. Depending on your goal, you may need to take classes, revamp a resume, seek treatment, ask someone out on a date, learn a new skill or otherwise put yourself in new and challenging circumstances.
And then, you will want to expect obstacles. Anticipating obstacles allows you to view them as part of the process, rather than a show-stopper.
Sometimes, Lopez says, it’s necessary to let go of old dreams, in order to create new ones. It can be challenging, in the face of trauma for example, to reorient your life and let go of past hopes, but doing so is central to attaining that basic human quality of hopefulness.
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