By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Genuine hope doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
As we go through this challenging time in our history, we all need to hang onto our hope. Not much gets accomplished by people who give up and stop trying. One of the most important things a counselor can do for their clients is to help that client develop a sense of hope.
While there’s a general understanding that hope plays a role in a successful life, there is not a great deal of agreement on what hope is and where you go to get more of it. I decided now would be an excellent time to look at the research on hope, see what it is, and how people go about developing an adequate supply of this scarce commodity called hope.
Lots of unrelated ideas masquerade under the name of hope.
The more dictionaries you look in for the term hope, the more confusing it becomes. Remember, dictionaries don’t start with the one correct meaning for the word. The way dictionaries are created is to look at the way writers use a word and then record what it meant in that context. The more comprehensive the dictionary, the more meanings you will find for any one word.
As I’m writing this blog post, my editing program keeps trying to get me to substitute words such as optimism, faith, belief, confidence, concern, desire, for the word hope. While all those words have similar or related meanings to the word hope, we need to be sure we’re talking about one specific thing.
One of the ways the word hope is used is in a very passive, wishful sense. Someone might say, “I hope nothing bad happens today.” People hope they’ll be rich someday, but they don’t do anything about improving their financial condition. Hope, in this sense, is nothing more than a vague wish, and hopefully, we all know by now wishes rarely come true without action.
There’s a field of psychological research called hope theory.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve read quite a bit of research into the area of hope and discovered there’s an entire field of study in psychology called hope theory. A researcher named Snyder has researched and written extensively about hope theory. I’ll try to explain what I got from reading the research and hopefully won’t distort it too much in the process.
Hope is best understood as goal-directed behavior. While not all the researchers agree on all the fine points, there seems to be a general agreement that people who are high in hope are frequently happier, more productive, and are more successful at reaching their goals. People who are low in hope have difficulty taking action, and in my view, this lack of hope creates them not taking action to get what they want out of life. Why would you do anything about your current problematic situation if you believe changing the situation was outside your control?
Hope theory divides the concept of hope into two distinct categories.
Hope consists of two separate processes, agency, and goals. People who are high in hope generally believe that their own actions will affect the outcome. If they want to be wealthy, whatever that means to them, they don’t depend on the death of a rich uncle or expect to win the lottery as their primary path to financial security. What they do is work, spend less than they make and, over time, save their money.
Agency is the belief that your actions matter.
There is a lot of similarity between the idea of agency and things like self-confidence and self-esteem, and self-efficacy. But in this application, the concept of agency seems to be the idea that your actions matter. People who are high in hope have the belief that they are not helpless victims. They generally believe their efforts have some impact on the outcome. They either have the skills to accomplish something, or they think they can develop those skills.
High hope people believe there’s more than one road to their goal.
People who are low in hope get locked into the belief that there’s only one way to do something, and they keep doing it over and over even when they don’t get the result they want. This inflexibility is probably a good operational definition of crazy behavior. People who are high in hope develop a list of alternative ways of reaching their goal. They start work on the most likely method. But if that route doesn’t take them where they want to go, they have the flexibility to alter their approach and try another path.
What are the benefits of being high in hope?
People who are high in hope keep trying until they find a way to be successful. I found research that says high hope people have better relationships. They are more likely to reach their goals. People who are high in hope don’t get stuck in ruts.
Is it possible to increase your hope?
Absolutely it is possible to increase your level of hope. Your current level of hope is not something you’re just stuck with because of your past experiences. But there are two things you must do to develop higher levels of hope. One is to believe that your actions matter. The other is to create multiple pathways towards reaching your goals. In future blog posts, I want to explore this idea and show you how people who seek out professional help, medical doctors, counselors, or therapists, often become more hopeful even before their first appointment with that professional.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Six David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Dark Family Secrets: Some family secrets can be deadly.
What if your family secrets put you in danger?
Letters from the Dead The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.
What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead?
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
Planned Accidents The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.
Sasquatch. Wandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive?
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