Cultivating Hope

Everyone would agree that a hopeful attitude is a good thing. But what exactly is hope? Can it be learned? Centuries of folk wisdom and religious teaching have taught the benefits of a hopeful attitude. These days, researchers believe that hope may be associated with good health and greater success, both personally and professionally.

But what exactly is hope? According to Dr. Rick Snyder while at the University of Kansas, hope is a practical, goal-oriented attitude – a stance people assume in the face of difficulty. Hope combines a goal-directed determination with the ability to generate the means of reaching the goals.

Dr. Snyder developed a test to measure hopefulness, and he found that college students who scored high in hope also turned in the best academic performance, regardless of high school grades or SAT scores. Folks who are injured or seriously ill do better when they have high hopes, as well. Actor Christopher Reeve had every intention of walking again, and had he lived, none of us would have been surprised to see him do so. Hope was a very large part of his being.

The research also suggested that – all other things being equal – a hopeful attitude helps people overcome obstacles like poverty, lack of education and even lack of social support. It is those people with hope, who can express that hope, who will best weather their circumstances. Hope seems to bolster the will to survive, and without hope, the will to continue fades away.

Can you learn to be hopeful? Of course! Start by seeing “failure” as an opportunity to learn rather than a flaw in your character, and make a habit of remembering your past successes. Break down your long-term goals into short-term sub-goals, and reward yourself for reaching them. Visualize a positive outcome for every situation, affirm yourself for all your good qualities, and no matter what happens, hang on to your hope.

And while hope may not be a strategy in the face of encroaching external disasters, it is a vital component to internal resilience. Cultivate it.