Is there any value in Hope?
Hope is a strange word. The word itself and what it truly means is very special and incredibly powerful but how we commonly use that word in a very different way, is something I find odd.
First, it’s a verb – something we do, an act of our will. Second, it’s a noun – a virtue we have (or don’t). Whether we have it or not (and whether we actively do ‘hope’ or not) makes a big difference on how we experience our lives.
“Hope is a trust, a faith, or a confident assumption that something is or will or can be so.”
So why do I find its usage strange?
Because many will use the word in everyday conversations even if they don’t really mean it, even if what they actually mean is something quite different.
“I hope all’s well. I hope it doesn’t rain. I hope there’s no traffic. I hope I get there on time. I hope I lose 10 pounds. I hope that mole stops growing.”
Many even think hope is a negative word – that it reeks of pessimism or weakness. It’s even used sarcastically. “Hope that works out for you.” Really, do you?
What I’m getting at is that many use the word to replace some kind of wishful thinking or as a pleasantry in conversation but they really don’t have true hope and they might even think its foolish.
Virtues & Strengths
Hope is one of the 24 Character Strengths in the Values in Action (VIA) assessment used in Positive Psychology, and one that I use with my clients.
Hope is a virtue of its own in theology (learn a bit more here – Wikipedia ), and for the VIA, it falls under the virtue classification of Transcendence.
Like most people who come to coaching with challenges and difficulties that they want improved or overcome, there is a subset, a group of people, that score low for Hope on the VIA (rather their choices put hope low in priority or value).
If our top 5 strengths are called our Signature Strengths, the bottom 5 might as well be called Signature Deficits(?). You can’t call them weaknesses because they aren’t, they’re still strengths of character but they’re not often called on or activated.
If the top 5 strengths show a person’s tendencies, their tilt, the bottom 5 also reveal a lot about a person’s tendencies and how they might be relating to life.
Other strengths I find in the bottom 5 with this group are spirituality, love, self regulation, and gratitude… no coincidence these people experience more loneliness, sadness, existential angst, frustration and mood swings.
When hope and optimism are low, life is just more stressful, and often painful. Life is sadder, harder and thus requires more energy and willpower.
It’s like hope is a fuel or an energy source for some people and the absence of it, is draining. Or at least leads to inner patterns that are draining. Like, negative, pessimistic, critical thinking especially about one’s self, one’s life and one’s future.
The Survey is simply that – a survey. A series of questions answered revealing a specific sequence of the 24 strengths. To me, they reveal what could be a Trait or a State. A trait would be an enduring aspect of one’s character (part of personality & temperament). A temporary state, would be like a mood, or a phase one is going through, such as a level of development in life.
Either way – when true Hope is low – people often get stuck and tend to suffer more.
In one of my favorite movies (for several reasons), The Shawshank Redemption, the theme of hope runs through it. Here are two scenes I’d like you to watch:
Hope is a dangerous thing
Hope is a good thing
Why does hope matter? Why is it important?
Because life is hard and often painful. Without hope, it’s immensely more difficult to envision a better future, one worth living for.
Hope lets us set meaningful goals that motivate us to move forward, to learn and grow, and to realize our full potential. And by goals, I mean outcomes, not achievements or possessions.
Hope isn’t just some feelgood emotion. Hope has implications for our health and wellbeing, as well as our performance.
Hope and optimism help give us the energy to take positive actions.
Pessimism and the lack of hope sap us of motivation and energy to do anything to improve our situations.
Hope has a protective factor, a motivational factor, and a resilience factor.
Hope isn’t wanting or wishful thinking, and it’s not a flaky wish. It’s a powerful, life-enhancing act of will that empowers us.
If you say hope when you really mean wish, you might not feel any power from it. But when you say hope and mean it, it’s coming from a deeper part of you that can hang on when hanging on is called for or let go when that’s the wiser thing to do.
Before we can use the power of hope to move us, we need to accept whatever it is that’s going on for us. Radical acceptance that this is the way it is and not wish it to change, but hope that you will endure, get through this tough time and that eventually things will get better.
You can even lend hope to another person who can’t access their own, and I do believe it makes a difference.
So, can we cultivate hope?
No, it’s hopeless.
Yes, of course we can, and for some of us more critically-minded, the outlook for being able to develop and leverage hope is very promising.
Start with a simple practice of envisioning a meaningful, rich and fulfilling future. What would that look like? What are some goals or outcomes that activate your soul? That deepest part of you that no one can take away from you.
In some ways, developing hope is a mind game – one of building more optimistic and positive perspectives and ways of thinking. If all you’ve got is gremlin talk, notice that, accept that, and practice generating multiple possibilities and pathways to create those outcomes and honor your deepest intentions.
Become very familiar with the typical things that usually get in your way, like gremlins or negative people, and make plans and strategies for getting around them. Make multiple plans, multiple pathways, multiple if/then scenarios that support you taking values-based action steps forward, because life is full of obstacles and barriers.
Don’t wish for things to get better, and don’t fantasize, but work on ways to be better. That is, develop your ‘self’, your strengths, your passions, your skills, your mindsets, your will and most of all your connection to your self and ability to accept things the way they are.
Know when to let go and surrender. This may sound like giving up and in one way it is – you give up the struggle and the fight. You realize that the way you’re doing this ‘struggle’ is hurting you more than helping but hold on to hope that you, somehow, will be ok in the end. And as the wise or foolish sometimes say, if you’re not ok, it’s not the end.
Have hope, be hopeful, lend hope. It matters.
In the end, you decide if hope is good or bad. This line sums it up for me:
“Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”
~ Andy Dufresne, Zihuatanejo.