Reflections of the importance of hope are found in religion, philosophy, literature and current inspirational thinking.
- God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us in the dreariest and most dreaded moments can see a possibility of hope. ~Maya Angelou
- There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope. ~Baruch Spinoza
- Hope never abandons you, you abandon it. ~George Weinberg
- Once you choose hope, anything’s possible. ~Christopher Reeve
Hope is broadly defined as an emotional state that promotes the belief in a positive outcome. Clearly we need hope, but even as we embrace it we often wonder – Does hope really make a difference? Is it myth, fiction, collective denial?
In my clinical experience with people over many years, hope seems to be an important ingredient in the equation of life, adversity, fear, and the courage to keep on moving – be it to try another job, face a medical treatment or reset trust in a relationship.
There is actually increasing scientific evidence that hope changes us psychologically and physiologically – that it makes a difference.
The Psychology of Hope
In his book, The Psychology of Hope, You Can Get There from Here, Charles Synder operationalizes the definition of hope as “The sum of the mental willpower and the waypower that you have for your goals.”
- A study used the Synder Hope Scale to assess hope in a group of 146 veterans diagnosed with PTSD who were enrolled in a 6-week residential cognitive processing treatment program. The Hope Scale assessed the sense of agencye. “ I can pursue my goals” and the belief in pathways i.e. “there are a lot of ways around my problem.”
- The findings indicate that having a higher level of hope coming into and during treatment was associated with PTSD-depression symptom reduction.
From Psychology to Economy –The Gift of Hope
Nicolas Kristoff, recently described a randomized study involving 21,000 people in six countries over three years. The study recognized that people trapped in a cycle of poverty suffer a poverty of despair, low self-esteem and hopelessness. As such, they don’t believe they can change their lives through their own activities.
The power of the study was the surprising finding that when people are given a gift of hope– be it a goat or bees, they experience a boost self-esteem and life circumstances that is self-fulfilling and continues even after the program ends. According to Kristoff, the researchers impression of the findings was ” And it’s exhilarating that one of the lessons may be so simple and human: the power of hope.”
The Physiology of Hope
In his book, The Anatomy of Hope, Jerome Groopman asks and answers the question of whether there is a biological mechanism whereby the feeling of hope can contribute to clinical recovery.
Drawing upon his experience as an oncologist, Groopman describes his journey from giving a terminal patient false hope by not telling them the truth, to bluntly taking away all hope, to finding that any patient needs choice and understanding to truly have hope.
“To hope under the most extreme circumstances is an act of defiance that…permits a person to live his life on his own terms.”
- Citing research findings from placebo studies in varying medical areas, Groopman illuminates the way in which belief and expectation, cardinal components of hope, can block pain by releasing the brain’s endorphin and enkephalins – the body’s own version of morphine.
- Groopman reminds us that it often takes only a small stirring of possibility to confront despair and elicit the power of hope – a person with chronic illness is offered a way to lessen fatigue; a wounded veteran trains to drive again; a senior is given a way to be back in the garden.
How Can We Hold On To Hope?
An important factor that is vital to holding on to hope is the human connection.
In the face of emotional pain and traumatic loss, it is very often another person who stirs and helps us hold on to hope.
Holocaust Survivor, Elie Wiesel tells us, “…Just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.”
It seems that we need hope and it seems that hope makes a difference in our lives. Does is dispel all pain, take away all sorrow, cure all illness? No, but it gives us the courage to keep working, praying, connecting and believing.
It is part of the human spirit to endure and give a miracle a chance.
– Jerome Groopman
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