I recently came across a study that blew my mind. Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert (2010), Harvard psychologists, found that participants in their study reported their “minds wandering” almost 47 percent of their waking hours. The term, “mind wandering” refers to thinking about stuff that is not in the present moment. Researchers concluded that a wandering mind is not a happy mind. In the Buddhist tradition, the untrained human mind is referred to as the “monkey mind”. I have become increasingly familiar with my own monkey mind. The combination of a wandering mind and given recent turbulent times can be a toxic combination. Ruminations of past negative events and projections of future disaster may lead to feelings of hopelessness. Mindfulness, intentional living with goals for a better future and practices of positive psychology, including cultivation of positive emotions, such as hope, can be a powerful remedy for the wandering, unhappy and hopeless mind.
Given the current state of the world rife with crises, such as, frequent mass shootings, geopolitical turmoil, racially based violence, political divisiveness and mental health crisis, I am more curious than ever about the hope factor. In my readings on hope, I came across a phenomenal book, Jane Goodall, Douglas Abrams, and Gail Hudson’s (2021) “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times”. This book makes a compelling case for hope and activism for a positive future. Dr. Goodall, a renowned researcher of animal behavior, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and United Nations Peace Ambassador, defined hope as a desire for a better future and “a human survival trait” when faced with adversity. She stated that without hope we perish. She also added that we need to work intelligently and diligently to optimize the occurrence of positive outcomes (our hopes or visions) for a better future. I agree with Dr. Goodall, especially in terms of active hope fueled action as very powerful. I prefer hope fueled and focused action rather than being stuck in the quagmire of the wandering “monkey” mind.
This post will look at Dr. Goodall’s powerful invitation to humanity for hope. As a 90-year-old woman who lived through World War II and the cold war, Dr. Goodall stated she has hope for a better future in the face of numerous crises, ecological, economic, racial violence, religious discrimination, and geopolitical turmoil. This post will include reflections on her compelling reasons for hope. It will also examine some of the correlates of hope found in scientific studies. Additionally, this post will explore hope through the noetic paradigm. The noetic paradigm includes the mysterious nature of hope, where hope is sometimes the only thing that arises out of our souls and occupies our hearts and minds when nothing else remains. Dr. Goodall argued hope is for both people of faith who believe in a Supreme intelligence behind the Universe, as well as, for secular people. She described hope as having both aspects: logical versus illogical. I agree.
THE HOPE FACTOR
Dr. Goodall argued that the “amazing human intellect” when utilized wisely is a powerful reason for hope. She stated that wisdom is when we use the powerful human intellect in actions with awareness of consequences of our actions and thinking about what is good for the whole. Wisdom integrates the sharp intellect with the compassion of the human heart in deciphering what is the best course of action to actualize visionsor hopes for a better future . Wisdom is the opposite of narcissism, where actions are based out of undiluted selfishness.
After reading Dr. Goodall’s reasons for hope, I took a deeper dive into what does psychology has to say about hope. The two most common theories of hope in psychology are Charles Synder’s hope theory and Kaye Herth’s hope theory.
Synder (2002) described hope theory as having three key components:
- Setting goals which can be achieved for a better future.
- Pathways of working towards the goal
- Agency or determination in utilizing resources to move forward on the pathways for goal achievement.
Tomasulo (2023) stated that goal setting needs to focus on what we can control. I am a big believer in visualizing goals, like creating vision boards, or writing goals down concisely. Another strategy is to think about macro goals (long term) versus micro goals (short term) to help you achieve macro goals. Tomasulo (2023) described effective micro goals as “brief”, reasonable” and “present focused”. Tomasulo (2023) also discussed the importance of maintaining a “positive outlook”. A key factor in maintaining a positive outlook is to cultivate the growth mindset, discussed by researcher, Carol Dweck. In a growth mindet, it is Ok to make mistakes because we can learn from our mistakes and become better. The growth mindset fuels the phenomenon of “fall forward”. The growth mindset is different from the fixed mindset, where the expectation is perfection at first attempt, which is unrealistic and often leds to stagnation and unproductivity.
Flexibility is also critical: as one pathway closes, we need to explore new ones. Positive emotions, self-confidence, social, emotional, and spiritual support always fuel our energy to work on pathways to achieve goals. Disappointment, failure, and negative emotions are inevitable on the road to achieving goals. Negative emotions may be processed in safe relationships, including spiritual resources, for new pathways to progress towards goals. In Herth’s theory of hope, there is a “affiliative-contextual” dimension of hope, which is very cool. This refers to people’s perceived social, emotional, and spiritual support, and sense of belongingness. The affiliative-contextual dimension speaks to the gift of hope that we may get from supportive people in our lives and spiritual resources. The gift of hope is what we give to each other. It is like one glowing candle lighting another candle. The actions of one candle lighting a multitude of other candles does not diminish the strength or beauty of the original candle. This highlights the notion that hope, like other positive emotions, is contagious. Hope spreads rapidly, often fueling movements.
Persistence is critical in the achievement of goals. Pathak (2020) wrote that when Thomas Edison was asked about his numerous failures before his invention, he stated “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.” Interestingly, Pathak (2020) wrote that Thomas Edison, as a four year old boy with partial deafness, came home and gave his mother a note from his teacher. The teacher wrote “ Your Tommy is too stupid to learn, get him out of the school.” Edison’s mother responded “ My Tommy is not stupid to learn, I will teach him myself.” This highlights affiliative and contextual dimension of Herth’s theory of hope and Tomasulo (2023)’s point that an important aspect of cultivating hope is to “stick to positive people”.
Hope begets hope. As we reach our goals, we tend to develop self- efficacy or belief that we can accomplish things we were unable to do before. Hope births new hope. Like other positive emotions, hope generates itself, expands the range of possibilities, increases problem solving skills and allows us to see old problems through new lens, where solutions appear more readily.
Research on Hope
Psychologists have studied correlates of hope. Barbara L. Fredrickson, a psychologist, did phenomenal work in studying positive emotions, such as, hope, love, and joy. Fredrickson’s theory, called Broaden and Build theory, refers to positive emotions permitting us to build more intellectual, social and physical resources. Cuncic (2023) pointed out that positive and negative emotions often co-exist and the goal is not to replace negative emotions with positive emotions. Cultivation of positive emotions can create an upward spiral which can help us create more coping and problem solving skills, greater resilience and gain perspective in the midst of negative emotions. Positive emotions can lead to more psychological flexibility, whereas, negative emotions, like fear and anger, are constrictive and narrow our ability to view different possibilities for problem solving, growth and well-being.
Day and colleagues (2010) followed first year undergraduate students over three years and found that their hope levels (agency and pathways) were more powerful predictors of their academic achievement than their intelligence, previous academic performance, and personality styles. Reichard and colleagues (2012) reviewed 45 different studies and identified a 14 percent increase in successful work performance when employees report higher hope levels than random chance.
Stern and colleagues (2001) found that hopelessness is a significant predictor of mortality in middle aged and older adults, such that, twice the number of adults who reported hopelessness died compared to their counterparts who reported feeling hopeful. Hopelessness was also a significant predictor of adults with cardiovascular or cancer.
Hope and the Indomitable Human Spirit
There are mysterious and illogical aspects of hope, difficult to decipher by the human mind, which can perhaps be better accounted for by the noetic paradigm. Peter M. Rojcewicz (2021) noted that in the noetic paradigm, phenomena are explored through the modalities of mind/body/spirit and transcendent dimensions. The human spirit conjures hope in remote, barren places. To hope is to dream. To dream is to live.
Dr. Goodall argued that a powerful reason for hope is the “indomitable human spirit”. She described that this is the inner courage and strength to fight for goals despite tremendous adversities, like scorn, ridicule, hopelessness, discrimination, and the ultimate cost of one’s life. She discussed people, like, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian who led nonviolent demonstrations against pollution by the Royal Dutch Shell and was executed by his government. She discussed the critical role of Sir Winston Churchill, who inspired Britain to fight against Nazi Germany, in the face of many European nations facing defeat. I love Winston Churchill’s quote “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. No point stopping in hell. Walk through it to the other end.
The topic of hope is complex and nuanced, an area of intersectionality between psychology and spirituality. Hope is powerful, and a necessity for survival, resiliency and critical in thriving and flourishing. Resiliency is human beings in overcoming adversity is demonstrated by the vast research in Post Trauma Growth (PTG). Dr. Goodall talks about the resiliency of nature as a powerful reason which makes her hopeful. I was particularly struck by Dr. Goodall’s story of seeing two five-hundred-year-old camphor trees which survived after the explosion of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki at the end of World War 2. She described the city in ruins, tremendous loss in human lives but the lower part of the tree trunks of these two trees survived. Unbelievable. Each spring the tree grew leaves and continues to grow. Remarkable. She described how Japanese people consider these trees as holy and symbols of “peace and survival”. She stated that “spiritual power exists in all of life”. We, as human beings define this spiritual spark as “the soul”. She added that this spiritual spark exists in nature. I agree.
On another note, one needs to be careful of false hope: goals not realized with repeated pathways and agency. Trapped in false hope can be a miserable and dismal experience. Grief and loss issues may need to be processed in letting go of false hope and old visions.
I will end with the remarkable comment about hope by the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, human rights activist, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Anglican Bishop of South Africa. In an interview in the film, “Mission: Joy (Finding Happiness in Troubled Times)”, the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu described himself as a “prisoner of hope” when it came to his difficult struggles for an apartheid free South Africa. Nelson Mandela, the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and his collaborators were successful in ending apartheid.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu
WISHING EVERYONE A FRUITFUL AND HOPEFUL 2024 YEAR.
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