A Vehicle Called Hope

“Cheer up—things can’t be that bad!”  How often has a well-meaning observer said something similar to you in an effort to be helpful, and the comment seemed flippant and insensitive to you?  You probably were less than appreciative (and the temptation to knock out some teeth might even have crossed your mind, depending on how the day was going!)

Precisely how does one “cheer up” and acquire hope in difficult circumstances?  For that matter, why bother?  The importance of holding onto hope is not a new concept (an ancient proverb writer penned millennia ago that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”)  However, more and more research is pointing to the actual mechanism and critical need for hope—not only for brain health, but also for achieving successful performance and outcomes in life. Studies have shown that while people may have talent, skill and ability for achieving goals, these are only contributing factors to success and are not sufficient to get us there. One must also have hope, as this is the psychological vehicle that transports us to our preferred outcome.

Since most of the scholarship about the psychobiology of hope are far over the head of this blogger, we can skip the complicated material about how brain scans visually reveal the presence or absence of hope and note instead the value of acquiring it for daily living. As stated in an article in Psychology Today, “Hope is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system.” The article goes on to say that the presence or absence of hope is shown to impact everything we do, from academic achievement to athletic performance. Surely caregiving, as well, demands hopefulness as the vehicle for functioning with success—in addition to our talents, skills and abilities.

Making the effort to live in an attitude of hopefulness requires a daily choice. Each day we must focus and determine to choose hopefulness over fear, anxiety and regret. Note that this is not a dreamy-eyed optimism that has no basis. Quite the contrary, Viktor Frankl was someone who appeared to always see the glass half full in the face of some of life’s greatest tragedies. A survivor of four concentration camps during the Holocaust, Frankl watched family members die in these camps, including his parents and wife. While many of us would have been fraught with bitterness or hatred throughout the remainder of our lives, Frankl resolved to choose genuine hope. He emerged all the stronger! Later he wrote some thirty books, all intended to be an encouragement to others.

One of the quotes for which he is best known, from Man’s Search for Meaning, is this: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Here’s “hoping” that you will choose an attitude of hopefulness today and every day, whatever your circumstances. It could make a dramatically positive difference for a lifetime.

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