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Why HOPE is a vital force to spark meaningful change

In this series of articles, we’ll be taking you on a profound journey, converting the hopelessness within ourselves to taking action for the sake of others.

Hopelessness can be a dangerous thing. It can be an incredibly weighty, dark and all-encompassing feeling. It can cause you to shut down, and often completely envelops your personal and professional life. Without hope, one lacks the energy or motivation or rationale to do, well, anything.

In this series of articles, we’ll be taking you on a profound journey, converting the hopelessness within ourselves to taking action for the sake of others.

The ending is the most important part of this journey. We want to get to a point where we can channel our new-found hope into helping those who need it most.

However, let’s start at the beginning. Step one is understanding the power of hope as a force for good in our lives and the lives of others.

What is hopelessness?

It may seem like a simple enough concept – the word simply means “without hope”. But by digging a little deeper we can understand how hopelessness changes the way we think.

Hopelessness, fundamentally, is the “belief or feeling that a difficult situation will never get better”. Believing that things will never improve is not a helpful way to live your life. By thinking this way, we go through life without direction, and it can be symptomatic of deeper psychological issues.

What are the causes of hopelessness?

There are different causes of hopelessness. Taking a step back to identify what’s precipitating these feelings can help us to tackle it.

In Scioli and Biller’s book “Hope in the Age of Anxiety”, they identify nine different reasons why you might be feeling hopeless.

Powerlessness is one of them. This is especially relevant today as the world tackles a global health crisis that is seemingly out of control. Feeling as though you lack agency to control something as important as your health and safety can lead to feelings of despair and depression.

We have seen that the powerlessness in the face of coronavirus has had an acute impact on our mental health. A survey has shown that one in five UK adults are experiencing feelings of hopelessness, as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

We can also see that there is an association between the pandemic’s progress and our mental health. For example, levels of worry and anxiety in the UK population have reduced to 49% of the population from 62% of the population at the start of lockdown. Generally, as we have gotten better at tackling the disease and have started to see a route out of it, our feelings of worry have decreased. So our feelings of anxiety have a legitimate cause – namely the worst health crisis we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

Recognising that such feelings of despair are a perfectly normal, indeed rational, response to difficult events can be a useful paradigm shift. It helps us to understand that we shouldn’t blame ourselves for having these feelings.

But while we cannot control the difficult situations that life will put us in, we can control the way that we respond to them. This is where hope comes in.

Why is Hope important?

Let’s look at the psychology.

Hope is not an empty or fanciful concept. Psychologists have long recognised the importance of hope for our mental wellbeing.

Charles R Snyder, a respected positive psychologist, came up with Hope Theory in the 1990s. His theory is that hope consists of agency and pathways. In other words, hope is having the motivation to achieve goals, and understanding the routes to do so. Having hope allows us to take control of our own narrative, and use strategies to achieve our goals.

Here we see hope as a dynamic cognitive motivational system. This means that we can use hope as a framework for our minds, to not only motivate us but to control our emotions. Having a hopeful, rather than hopeless, narrative of life is useful for when obstacles inevitably come our way.

There is a ton of research which points to the tangible benefits of having a hopeful outlook.

In one study, researchers found that having higher levels of hope was associated with achieving higher grades at college and being more likely to graduate than those with lower levels. Athletes have also been found to have higher levels of hope than non-athletes.

Hope has even been found to be a powerful predictor of success. In a study of law students, researchers found that hope was a better predictor of law school grades than LSAT scores or even undergraduate grades.

Another analysis of the effects of hope has found that having an “agentic hopeful disposition” is “strongly related to subjective well-being”.

In other words, the more hopeful you are, the happier you are, and the more likely you are to achieve your goals.

The role of faith in being hopeful

Belief is the sister of hope. It’s unwavering faith in something, such as a higher power or that things will get better. It can be incredibly powerful, and can form the framework for the way we live our lives.

What it does is provide us with the elusive certainty and conviction that so many of us crave. If we stop questioning whether we can make a difference, and we just believe it, there’s no stopping us.

The science shows us that belief can be just as transformative as hope. Those with religious beliefs, for example, tend to be happier than those who don’t, they give more to charity and they are more likely to help others.

By combining hope with belief, we can really start to make a difference to our own lives, but most importantly the lives of others. Let’s start hoping and believing that we can create a greater future.

Where do we go from here?

By understanding how powerful a motivator hope can be, reversing it shows us how demotivational hopelessness can be. The links between mental health difficulties and hopeless feelings are profound (and if you have been struggling with these feelings you should also seek professional help).

While feelings of despair are never your fault, it is important to recognise our agency in overcoming them. There are practical, tangible ways to create hope. Read our next article to find out what these are.

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