What is hope?

People speak of different kinds of hope, including inborn hope, chosen hope, borrowed hope, bargainer’s hope, unrealistic hope, false hope, and mature hope. Let’s focus on mature hope.

Mature hope arises from seeing the nature of things clearly. We see that in the long run, good prevails over evil. As Martin Luther King once said, “The long arm of history bends towards justice.” We see our past successes and know that we can succeed again. Hope sees that life always finds a way. Dark times usually give way to dawn if we but positively persist with hope. Even when facing the inevitability of loss, pain, and even death, mature hope allows us to see that this Reality is sacred and perfect exactly as it is, and that it can be no other way. Mature hope is based on meaning—the meaning that life is sacred and worthwhile even when there is a bad outcome. Mature hope recognizes a loving life force that flows through us just as the sun’s rays flow through the earth.

Mature hope sees a path to a better future. It is more than optimism, because it is practical and realistic. Hope enables us to dream of a better tomorrow based on evidence from the past. Hope is a belief that things will eventually work out somehow. Even during disaster, hope tells us we will get through it. Mature hope allows us to trust for the best in a bad situation.

The positive belief and expectation that all will be well inspires the will and the ways to get through a difficult time. Hope inspires the will to take positive action. Hope also triggers our creativity to figure out ways to get through and endure.

Mature hope is active. It is not wishful thinking.

Hope sees that sometimes painful experiences contain seeds of opportunity and growth. Difficulties can be blessings in disguise. Hope looks back and sees that the most painful experiences in our lives were often the most transformative.

Hope helps us endure distress. It also helps us endure uncertainty. With hope-inspired effort, we know that the best possible outcome will result.

Benefits of hope.

Hope is an essential practice of love, for hope enhances life, not only for ourselves, but for others as well. Hope is good for us.

People who lack hope have a victim mentality. When adversity hits, they are pessimistic, passive, despairing, and resigned. Faced with failure, they quit rather than getting up and persevering. Their lack of hope is self-fulfilling. They also avoid growth opportunities out of the belief that failure is final. They set their sights low and fail to grow.

Hopeful people, on the other hand, survive and thrive in the face of adversity. Rather than having a victim mentality, they have a survivor mentality. They are active, optimistic, and positive, even while grieving. Hopeful people know, without a doubt, that things will get better. They know that this will pass.

Hope fuels success, because it is self-fulfilling. Success comes not just from pursuing goals, but from overcoming the obstacles along the way. Hope provides the will and the way to overcome, because it inspires creativity, endurance, and determination. Hope thus helps us to visualize goals and figure out ways to achieve them. Hope empowers us with a sense of agency. It motivates us. It gives us the capacity to act. Since hope inspires divergent thinking and a will to act, studies show that hopeful students get higher GPAs than students who are just optimistic, or who just believe that their success is in their hands.

Hopeful people learn and grow, because they are willing to take on goals that require learning through practice and failure. On some level, they know that failure is success in disguise. Hope enables them to get back up and persist.

Hope heals. Hope makes the present easier to bear, because we know better times will come. Hope inspires the capacity to endure. Hoping enhances the chances of recovery. Hopeful people heal faster and easier from trauma and disease. This is in part because hope motivates healthy behaviors. Studies show that hopeful people who are ill have an improved prognosis and enhanced quality of life.

Having hope for others has a profound positive effect. In one study, having hope for patients led to longer periods of recovery from alcoholism.[1] Hoping for others brings out in people something they did not know they had. Expecting the best for others helps others achieve the best for themselves. Think back on the people in your life who believed in you. How did it impact you? See that sincerely believing in others is one of the most loving things you can do.

We see the power of hope in the placebo effect. Hoping a treatment or medication will work promotes healing in and of itself. Hope is very powerful.

Hope is paradoxical, because hopeful people are acceptant and appreciative of today while expecting a better tomorrow. Acceptance and gratitude enable us to live into a better future.

So we see that mature, realistic hope is self-fulfilling, because it determines how we deal with difficulty. With hope, we respond with effort, creativity, love, faith, and gratitude rather than despair and resignation.

Cultivating Hope

We cultivate hope by cultivating faith and love through the following intentional practices:

  • Foster your faith by seeing clearly the many successes you have had in the past (you have succeeded in innumerable ways if you are reading this). Then see the many successes of so many who were far worse off than you. Faith is a fact. Just look carefully and see Reality as it is.
  • Practice hoping. Anticipate the best for yourself. Anticipate the best for others, knowing that it matters what you believe. See that expectations are self-fulfilling.
  • Envision a positive future for yourself and those around you. You attract to yourself what you dwell upon. Start every day visualizing the life you want and the life you want for others.
  • Create a set of hopeful self-affirmations. Say out loud every morning the truth of the best self that you are growing into. Say them like you mean them, and they will inspire self-fulfilling action.
  • Reflect daily with gratitude on your many blessings, even in the most difficult of times.
  • Open yourself to the abundance of love that surrounds you. Humbly ask for help and let it in.
  • Practice surrendered action. Detach from a given outcome. When things don’t work out, persist. Harness failure as an opportunity for learning and growth.
  • Imagine someone from your past who believed in you. Imagine being like them towards yourself. Then be your own, ideal, hopeful parent.
  • Know that change is possible for yourself and others. Change is all around you. All it requires is hope, practice, patience, and persistence.
  • Hope for others. Believe in them. Help them develop a vision of a way forward, not by disagreeing or cheerleading, but by helping them tap into their own inner vision and creativity.

Hope is powerful. Hope will transform your life and the lives of all those you touch. May you engage in the practice of hope and realize the benefits of hope.

[1] Leake, G.J, and King, A.S. “Effect of Counselor Expectations on Alcoholic Recovery.” Alcohol Health and Research World 1: 16-22. 1977.

Other resources for joy, healing, and recovery at drmichaelmcgee.com.