By Donna Jackel
Hope guides us through our darkest times. Without it, we stay mired in despair.
Hope allows us to believe that change is possible—that even in the midst of a relapse, you will find your feet again. Hope gives us the strength to get up and try again.
Hope actually has therapeutic value, says Michael Thase, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and director of its Mood and Anxiety Program.
“It’s long been known that when people feel hopeful they have much less risk of suicide and a better response to treatment,” he says.
But what is hope exactly, and how do you find and sustain it?
Nancy Snow, PhD, a professor of philosophy and director of the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at the University of Oklahoma, has written about hope as a character trait that helps us thrive. Her definition of hope: “the desire to attain a certain end and the belief it is possible to attain it.”
Optimism also plays a role—the confidence that things will, somehow, work out for the better.
In part, hope relies on what psychologists call “agency”—the conviction that you can exert control over your actions and your environment. Researchers who study hope use a scale that assesses how much influence people think they have over reaching a goal and what pathways they might use to get there.
Optimism also plays a role—the confidence that things will, somehow, work out for the better. Or as Thase puts it, “hope is a combination of lessening suffering and psychic pain and building more positive expectations for the future.”
In Snow’s view, an innate hopefulness may be established when we’re young.
“Hope is a pretty deep-seated part of our psyches that is developed in childhood,” she says. “Having supportive, encouraging parents, what is called parental scaffolding, helps us to be effective agents.”
But there are ways to build up your hope reserves later in life, too. Clinical psychologist Anthony Scioli, author of Hope in the Age of Anxiety and The Power of Hope, describes four foundational dimensions: setting and striving toward goals, acquiring coping skills, developing empowering relationships, and deepening your sense of faith. [end of excerpt]
Printed as “Get your hopes up,” Winter 2018