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Why Hope Matters

Why Hope Matters

“I hope it’s sunny tomorrow.”

“I hope I can get everything done by lunchtime.”

“I hope my talk goes well and is helpful to the participants.”

These are things I’ve hoped for over the past day.

Everyone hopes. It’s one of the most natural things we do. We hope optimistically – for things we want or things we want to happen.

We also hope that we can cope in difficult times.

In fact, sometimes hope is all you have.

That’s what I found myself contemplating after my Dad passed away a few months back. He had a brain tumour. Glioblastoma multiforme.

There were times where we believed the treatment was working. Other times we weren’t so sure. But we hoped. Belief came and went. It changed. But we never stopped hoping.

Even right up until the final seconds of Dad’s life when his body was shutting down. I still hoped for a miracle.

In those final moments of Dad’s life, as I clung to hope as my last remaining sense of agency, I then released it and said a silent prayer to Dad that it was OK, that he could leave now. It was just the family here. In that instant, I found myself remembering that dying people sometimes open their eyes right at the end to say goodbye. At that moment, Dad opened his eyes.

Did my hope, and that of Mum and my sisters, somehow allow that possibility? Did our hope and longing communicate with some aspect of Dad’s consciousness. I hope so. I believe so.

Hope is a strange thing. Even in darkness, it’s a source of light.

It can ignite anywhere, even in places where willpower and positive thinking fall away. It’s the last thing you lose. There are times when it really is all you have left.

Hope can keep you afloat when you feel like you’re sinking.

Some say, “What’s the point in hoping? You’ll just be disappointed.” I get that. “Surrender to what is,” a friend once told me. “Hope just prolongs the pain. It keeps you trying to do something when you really should move on.”

Maybe we can do both. The skill in life is in knowing when to keep hoping and when to accept and move on.

But regardless, hope matters; quite a bit. Research shows that it can support mental health. Without it, as another friend colourfully noted, “you’re depressed as f**k.”

Hope gets us out of bed in the morning. It keeps us going, keeps us focused, motivated, and believing that we can have, do, or achieve something that’s important to us. It’s not just something that keeps us afloat, but something in everyday life that helps fuel a sense of purpose. 

Hope is healthy. It’s part of what being human is.

Psychologist, Charles Snyder, presented Hope Theory in the 80s. He defined hope along the lines of the perceived ability to do something or make something happen. In Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas said something similar. He wrote that hope is grounded in a desired future that is both difficult to achieve but possible.

But possible! 

No matter how difficult, hope is in the sense that it is possible. Even miracles happen.

Hope can exist even when you don’t know any way that a thing can happen. You hope anyway. Because you can hope for a seeming miracle. You might not believe it will happen, but you still hope.

Hope has psychological benefits. It can provide some present-time relief. One can rest in hope for a while when things around you seem to be heavy, confusing, or the opposite of what you want. You can recline back on the seat of hope for a while and shut out some of the world.

Studies show that hope can help build positive emotions. I’ve found this myself on numerous occasions, that hope can be like taking a breather from needing to have all the answers.

It’s been shown to counteract depression. Having suffered from depression a number of years ago, I know that life can, at times, feel hopeless. But then, a little glimmer of hope can be enough to give you a few good hours, or a few good days. Sometimes even to give you enough strength to accept help. Because in the absence of hope, we lack the belief that help can be any good.

Hope can give us a sense of purpose and direction. It can provide meaning. I recall writing my first book. It took me two years. I finished it early in 2005. Then, over the following months the book was rejected by every publisher I sent it to.

Some were kind. They explained that it just wasn’t a fit for their focus at the moment. They wished me well.

I felt dejected for a while, but then a friend, Richard Wilkins, suggested self-publishing. He’d done it with a few of his books. So that’s what I did. I didn’t know what I was doing, but hope kept me going and even got me over the finish line.

Hope and belief are connected. Hope is the seed that can grow into belief. There were times when I believed I’d make it happen. Other times I wasn’t so sure, but I still hoped. I hoped that no matter what obstacles were making themselves felt I’d still be able to do it. And that hope grew.

This was in 2005 when self-publishing was quite a bit more challenging than it is today because you pretty much had to do everything by yourself, all the things that self-publishing companies now do for you.

Hope can be contagious. It’s transferrable. When someone loses hope, your hope can be infectious. It can help them feel a glimmer of hope, and sometimes, even in the most difficult times, it’s just enough. Your light lights them up. It also takes away some of the loneliness that comes with feeling hopeless.

Hope has physical benefits too. In a study of almost 13,000 adults with an average age of 66, researchers at Harvard found that a greater sense of hope was associated with better physical health, reduced risk of all-cause mortality, fewer number of chronic conditions, lower risk of cancer, and even better sleep quality. 

It was also associated with better psychological wellbeing, including increased positive emotion, life satisfaction, greater social wellbeing, and a greater sense of purpose. And it was associated with less stress.

So, hope is healthy on many levels; mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Don’t be afraid to hope, then. Yes, you might not always get what you want, but then again, you might.

Hope for great things, then. Set your hope loose.

Hope is the seed that might eventually grow into a great oak in your life.

Hope for everything you can dream of.

Who knows what might happen?

Credit

David R. Hamilton PhD
After completing his PhD, David worked for 4 years in the pharmaceutical industry developing drugs for cardiovascular disease and cancer. During this time he also served as an athletics coach and manager of one of the UK’s largest athletics clubs, leading them to three successive UK finals. Upon leaving the pharmaceutical industry, David co-founded the international relief charity Spirit Aid Foundation and served as a director for 2 years.

Now a bestselling author of 6 books published by Hay House, he offers talks and workshops that fuse science, the mind, and spiritual wisdom. David writes a regular blog for the Huffington Post.

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