Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Understanding Hope

Haven’t you always thought of hope as a feeling, a glorious response that rises from deep within? As something that you either have or don’t in a given situation. I had thought so too, and turns out it is another thing about which I was wrong. Research has shown that, shockingly, hope is not an emotion at all. Instead, it’s a cognitive process, a way of thinking.    

C.R. Snyder, a former researcher at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, tells us that hope is a thought process that is made up of a trilogy of:
  • Goals
  • Pathways
  • Agency

What this means is that we are hopeful when we can set realistic goals, figure out how to achieve them, all the while believing in our own capabilities. So, hope is, in fact, a learned skill. According to Snyder, as children, we learn hopeful thinking to the extent that we have relationships characterized by boundaries, consistency, and support. When these elements are missing, we have no way of learning or practicing hopeful thinking. We may carry within us a learned helplessness that clouds our lives. Only with understanding the true nature of hope can we begin to see ourselves as agents, rather than victims.

Once we do accept that hope is a practice, another bit of research becomes relevant. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown emphasizes that the cultural belief that everything should be fun, fast, and easy is inconsistent with hopeful thinking. What this really does is set us up for hopelessness. She says that: “When we experience something that is difficult and requires significant time and effort, we are quick to think, This is supposed to be easy; it’s not worth the effort, or This should be easier: it’s only hard and slow because I’m not good at it. Hopeful self-talk sounds more like, This is tough, but I can do it.” 

While Brown cautions us against the cultural notion of fast and easy, she also talks about the fact that not everything is supposed to be difficult. You may find that the process of reaching a certain goal is, in fact, fun and easy. This does not mean that such a goal has less value. What it does mean is that in order to be hopeful, we need to be aware that different goals require different processes. When a goal is tough, we need to stay flexible and develop alternatives. If we can develop our ability to tolerate disappointments as well as our faith in ourselves, we can start living more hopeful lives.


  1. Wow... Ritu... In order to reach a bigger goaL... you gottta set a lot of small goals.. That take us to a big goal!!.... This is important! :)

    1. Yes Hersh :) I thought so too! I used to think that you either were hopeful or hopeless depending on the situation. But what this says is that hope is actually a way of thinking, and we can move towards more hopeful attitudes and behaviors.