There are situations that can give the impression of extinguishing all hope of a better life and future. Losing the people we love most, unemployment, losing physical functionality, mental illness, the diagnosis of a chronic disease…

All these situations can cause a break with our expectations, what we thought about the future. Losing what we consider meaningful and valuable can contribute to losing our compass, our way of determining what will lead us to our goals. When this happens, we need new paths or strategies to achieve the old objectives , often taking a new direction.

It’s easier to have hope when everything is going well. It is important, however, to keep hope alive and to continue to cultivate it in the bad and difficult times of life. That is why in this article I want to talk about hope, the elements necessary to cultivate it, and its benefits.

Vision of the future affects present behavior

Shane Lopez, in his book Making Hope Happen explains that, through his work and research on the subject of hope with millions of people, he has realized that the way we think about the future determines how well we live our lives . When we have clear hopes for the future we live well, when we do not, we can come to feel that life is not worth living.

It is then important to reconnect with a meaningful future, as this affects the behavior of the present. We can exercise and eat healthily because we want to have a healthy old age, look good or have a new relationship. Others may work hard at studying and working to obtain the material stability, freedom or professional development they desire. We save money either for a vacation or for other dreams with the people we love. We invest in the present to reap what we envision from the future. Hope drives us to act .

In turn, what we choose to do in the present creates and nurtures hope or plays to its detriment. For example, the constant postponement of important goals can cause hope of achieving those goals to fade over time because we begin to see that desired future as more and more distant.

The theory of hope

For Shane Lopez hope is a future-oriented state . Our thoughts look ahead and tell us what we need to do today. Our feelings lift us up and give us the energy to keep up the effort.

Likewise, he considers that hope is a choice, can be learned and shared with others, is active and requires effort . In addition, Shane Lopez describes four beliefs that people tend to share with hope. These are: to think that the future will be better than the present and the past, to believe that one has the power to make it so, to believe that one can find various paths to the desired goals, and to understand that no path is free of obstacles.

These beliefs are key to the elements that make up the model of hope described by his mentor, Rick Snyder. The process of hope then consists of:

1. Goals

These are the objectives that guide human behavior . They can be short, medium or long term. It is to identify where we are now and where we want to go, what we want to do and who we want to be. Hope is built from the goals that we consider most important, that we are excited about pursuing, that are clear, specific and realistic. It is a balance between thinking positively about the future and recognizing the barriers and effort involved in achieving them. It is not about passive wishing.

2. Agency

It is based on the belief that one has an active role in achieving goals and influencing how one’s life goes. It is knowing that through the actions we take we are shaping life for better or worse . It requires taking responsibility for improving situations and assuming the responsibility of moving forward with the achievement of dreams. As we see the connection between our actions and good results, we also develop the ability to motivate ourselves and the capacity to persist on the path in spite of obstacles.

3. Roads

It consists of being recursive. It is the perceived ability to seek and generate multiple routes to goals and choose the most appropriate paths, monitoring progress. It also involves being realistic and anticipating that obstacles will arise at any time, so it is important to maintain flexibility and if necessary make changes in plans and/or choose better routes towards what you want to achieve.

Each of these elements interacts with the others. A change in one of them affects the others. When these components are strong, hope increases; when one is weak, hope decreases. It is then when it is important to intervene to strengthen that missing or undeveloped element.

When hope is not hope, but something else

It is important to understand that we are not talking about hope when we cling to the fact that things must be as we believe and want them to be. Obsessing about the persistence of a relationship that is unhealthy or for some reason cannot go on, is not maintaining hope, it is a style of attachment. Likewise, it is to persist in projects that have repeatedly failed or that can no longer come to fruition .

Life presents situations that are sometimes not under our control, but hope gives us the message that it is possible to start over, that we have the capacity to do so, and that our effort is required to achieve it.

We tend to think that suffering is bad , and that is why we try so hard to avoid it, even if it is inevitable. But, just as diamonds, which are pure carbon atoms, under conditions of darkness, pressure and extreme temperature are transformed into the gemstone, human beings are transformed through difficulty, nullifying what does not serve them like excessive and useless fears or arrogance and developing positive qualities like compassion and kindness.

Benefits of cultivating hope

High levels of hope are associated with better performance and success in academics, business and professional sports , greater physical and psychological well-being and better interpersonal relationships (Lopez & Snyder, 2009; Lopez, 2013).

Hope has an impact on physical health by facilitating people’s efforts to engage in disease prevention activities such as exercise, reducing the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, and coping and recovering from existing health problems. By itself, higher levels of hope have been found to be associated with positive affect, greater life satisfaction, greater perception of well-being and sense of life (Lopez & Snyder, 2009).

Hope also influences the assessment and coping with stressors and obstacles . Research has shown that people with greater hope are effective in generating and using alternative paths to goals. This is especially relevant when facing barriers in achieving goals or when there are paths that are closed. People with little hope are more likely to use avoidance as a coping strategy (Lopez & Snyder, 2009).

Finally, people with high hope are likely to form close connections with others because they show interest in the goals of others not just their own, enjoy interacting with others, and perceive greater social support (Lopez & Snyder, 2009).

In any case, we tend to learn a lot from the people around us and also to influence them. Fortunately, hope is contagious, so we can be touched by the hope of others and also inspire those around us and thus contribute to the sense of well-being, motivation, and mutual growth in our relationships and spread it also in the world, which we all know needs it.

Bibliographic references:

  • Lopez, S. J. (2009). The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. Second Edition. Oxford; New York.
  • Lopez, S. J. (2013). Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others. Atria Books; New York.