Chan Hellman was the keynote speaker at this month’s Bainbridge Youth Services fundraising breakfast. He shared the following article with BYS to explain the power of hope.
Almost 30 years ago, Dr. Seuss introduced one of the greatest children’s book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.” “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
For me, this is one of the greatest books on nurturing hope. No matter the adversity and heartache we have endured, hope is the mindset that drives resilient behaviors.
Hope is the belief the future will be better than the present. But hope is more than this optimistic outlook. Hope is comprised of three main tenets: goals, pathways thinking, and willpower.
Goal setting is the cornerstone of hope. Being hopeful means, you have the ability to set and achieve important goals that will make the future better than today. Once you identify a valued goal, hope requires that you can identify one or more pathways to achieve these goals. Pathways thinking is about your ability to strategically plan how you can overcome the potential obstacles you are likely to experience while pursuing your goals.
Finally, hope requires that you have the willpower (mental energy, motivation) to pursue these pathways. By being able to identify your goals, think about pathways, and are motivated to begin these pathways is the belief that the future will be better than the present and you can make this future possible.
Both pathways and willpower are required for hope. In some cases, we may have the pathways to our goals but lack the willpower/motivation to pursue those pathways. In other cases, we may have the willpower for our goals but do not have the pathways. Hope is about taking action to achieve your goals. In fact, willpower without pathways is nothing more than a wish.
Think about that for a moment. How often do you use hope when you really mean a wish? “I hope it doesn’t rain today.” “I hope you have a nice day.”
Hope and wishing are different. A wish is something that you desire to come true that might not be realistic. Hoping is having a desire with real expectation — being proactive about your future.
Hope is an important psychological strength that allows individuals, families and communities to thrive. What the research has shown is that hope is easily measured and can be improved and sustained with intentional efforts.
The science of hope is well established with many benefits across the life span. Hopeful individuals are happier, healthier and more engaged in their community. Research has identified that hopeful children have better school attendance, grades and graduation rates. Here is where the science of hope becomes interesting, hope scores are a better predictor of college success than the SAT, ACT or high school grade point average.
Our research has found that your level of hope influences the goals you set. Hopeful children and adults set achievement-oriented goals that are likely to stretch them to learn new skills. Those with lower hope are more likely to set avoidance goals. That is, those with lower hope tend to set goals around things or events they do not want to happen.
Let’s consider an example that many of us have experienced or can imagine experiencing. Many of us can drive or have attempted to drive a manual shift car. Let’s consider this experience in the context of hope.
When you first started this process, you had a very desirable goal — you wanted to drive. However, the only pathway available was a manual shift car. Remember (or imagine) that first time — you had the car started, the clutch pressed and had found first gear. You are getting ready to let the clutch out for the very first time. Now stop, in that moment, what was your goal?
For many of us, our goal was to not stall the car. In the context of hope, this is an avoidance goal.
Now imagine (or like me, remember) that when we first let the clutch out, we stalled the car. What was going through your mind? For me, it was a lot of negative self-talk, “I’ll never be able to do this, I’m so stupid.” Were you experiencing despair? This is the experience of low hope. However, did you give up? The desirability of the goal was so high you had the willpower to overcome the obstacles. After several attempts, you learned to drive the manual shift car. After practice, you transitioned from driving in a parking lot, to driving in traffic, to driving in unfamiliar communities. This is an example of how hope begets hope. When we achieve one goal, it opens the possibility for more difficult goals. A broader future starts to become possible.
Our work at the Hope Research Center at the University of Oklahoma, is focused on researching hope in the context of despair and apathy. We have found that in cases of child maltreatment, domestic violence, homelessness, foster care that community-based services agencies are moving the needle on hope and changing the future for the lives of those with high Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Recently, I was in Kitsap County meeting with school districts and service providers to discuss the science and power of hope. Our research consistently shows that programs like Bainbridge Youth Services are pathways of hope for the children in this community.
Hope is very much a social gift where caring adults can help children navigate stress and adversity to achieve the important goals in their lives. In this important time in our nation, more than ever we need to understand hope, we need to find ways to nurture hope in our community, especially for those living in toxic stress and despair.
We need to put action to the vision of Dr. Seuss where we greet each child with: “You’re off to great places, today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so … get on your way!”
Chan Hellman, Ph.D., is a professor, quantitative psychologist, and the director of The Hope Research Center at the University of Oklahoma. His new book, with co-author, Casey Gwinn is titled:” Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life.” Next month, we’ll hear about hope from the teenage perspective.