Hope requires stepping out from the past and looking to the future. It’s about imagining a better tomorrow and being prepared to do what it takes to make it so. It’s about creating a vision and taking affirmative action. It makes the difference between success and failure, triumph or defeat, confidence or fearfulness. Hope is in our hands.
Hope is “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.” according to Dr. Shane Lopez, senior scientist at Gallup, who also wants us to know how useful hope can be. “Hope is the leading indicator of success in relationships, academics, career, and business—as well as of a healthier, happier life,” he says.
Dr. Lopez is spearheading new research showing that not only is hope good for your wellbeing, but it’s a measurable quality that can be increased with practice. His new book, Making Hope Happen, discusses the science behind hope and describes practical ways to improve your wellbeing by nurturing a positive, active approach to life. He believes that by increasing the element of hope in our approach, we can lead happier and more productive lives. Once again it is our creative brain that is harnessed to till the soil ready to plant the seeds of hope. Without the proactive approach of constructive and creative endeavour, the belief that tomorrow will be better than today is merely an optimistic attitude. When we actually do something about making the future a better place then we are living in the real definition of hope. Being hopeful also helps us achieve more and to do so more quickly. Dr Lopez’s studies show that we are in fact 14% more productive at work when we believe that we are going to be successful in our outcomes.
Hopeful people understand that we need to have no more than two or three meaningful goals to work towards. Trying to juggle a chaotic life makes it hard to focus so we need to edit down our goals to what we know to be achievable by making them clear, specific and easily imaginable. They must also reflect our purpose and the values that have meaning for us. They must make us feel excited and motivated. We have to decide what matters to us most and concentrate our efforts on that. If we feel heavily invested in something we are more likely to feel hopeful about accomplishing it. Wishful thinking doesn’t get us where we want to be, hard work in the right direction does. In order to sustain the forward thrust we need to come with creative plans to keep our brains interested and engaged. To remain hopeful we must anticipate that it isn’t going to be easy so that we be responsive to the tripwires, shift our position, reframe our plans and come at the problems from another angle. We need to keep our creative minds agile rather than fixed, in order to keep hopeful.
Jerry Groopman, MD, in his ground-breaking book, The Anatomy of Hope: “Hope differs from optimism. Hope does not arise from being told to ‘think positively,’ or from hearing an overly rosy forecast. Hope, unlike optimism, is rooted in unalloyed reality. Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see – in the mind’s eye – a path to a better future. Hope acknowledges the significant obstacles and deep pitfalls along the path. True hope has no room for delusion.
Clear-eyed, hope gives the courage to confront our circumstances and the capacity to surmount them. For all my patients, hope, true hope, has proved as important as any medication I might prescribe or any procedure I might perform.
Hope can arrive only when we recognize that there are real options and that you have genuine choices. Hope can flourish only when you believe that what you do can make a difference, that your actions can bring a future different from the present. To have hope then, is to acquire a belief in your ability to have some control over your circumstances. You are no longer entirely at the mercy of forces outside yourself.”
Hopeful people are realists. They know the path is peppered with obstacles to be overcome. As Dr Lopez has discovered, they are also not shy to reach out and ask for support and help when they are faced with something that is insurmountable on their own. Surrounding ourselves with other hopeful people will help us sustain our energy and inspire us to keep devising new ways to reach our goals. However sometimes the rocks being hurled at us along the way turn into an avalanche of opposition and at that point the hopeful know to stop and reassess. They are not afraid to acknowledge when the pursuit of a goal is no longer working for them and they clear the road and begin again. It takes courage to recognize when a goal has become toxic but when we are hopeful we are also open, and that mental state allows for the creative brain to get working again on a new strategy. It takes resilience, vulnerability and curiosity to build and sustain the hope muscle.
If ever there was a story of hope triumphing over adversity it is that of Malala Yousafzai. She was born on 12 July 1997 in Mingora, a town in the Swat District of north-west Pakistan. Her father Ziauhddin ran a school in Swat near the family home. Pakistan has the highest number of children out of school and in 2009 the Taliban’s efforts to encourage this by restricting education and attempting to stop girls going to school, were sharply increased. But Malala loved learning and going to school. She began writing a blog for the BBC Urdu service under a pseudonym, about fears that her school would be attacked and the increasing military activity in Swat. Television and music were banned, women were prevented from going shopping and then Ziauddin was told that his school had to close. But Malala and her father both continued to speak out for the right to education. In 2011 she received Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and was nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Her public profile and popularity enraged the Taliban leaders and they voted to kill her. On 9 October, 2012, as Malala and her friends were travelling home from school, a masked gunman entered their school bus and asked for Malala by name. She was shot with a single bullet which went through her head, neck and shoulder. Two of her friends were also injured in the attack.
Malala survived the attack, but was critically injured. She was taken to Birmingham hospital in UK and not released until January 2013 when she was joined by her family. The Taliban’s attempt to kill Malala received worldwide condemnation and led to protests across Pakistan. In the weeks after the attack, over 2 million people signed a right to education petition, and the National Assembly swiftly ratified Pakistan’s first Right To Free and Compulsory Education Bill. Malala became a global advocate for the millions of girls being denied a formal education because of social, economic, legal and political factors. Malala accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2014 with Kailash Satyarthi. She started the Malala Fund to raise awareness about the social and economic impact of girls’ education and to empower girls to speak out, to work to their potential, and to demand change. Throughout her trials Malala remained undefeated. She trusted in hope, she stood firm to her beliefs, she defied those trying to stop her and still today continues to use her voice to share hope with others.
“Dear brothers and sisters, do remember one thing. Malala day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights. There are hundreds of Human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for human rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goals of education, peace and equality. Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I am just one of them.
So here I stand… one girl among many. I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights:
Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.
Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.”
Hope has the capacity for healing in many ways. Since the 1960’s scientists have revealed the effect of positive mental attitude on our bodies. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is the scientific study of our mind, body and overall health. Specifically it is the study of “the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body.” It doesn’t rely on disingenuous wishful thinking. It promotes a hopeful attitude to health through the practical uptake of anti-inflammatory foods and a decrease in stressors. Inflammation in the body causes many of the diseases that kill 70% of the American population, so it makes sense to concentrate on eating foods that reduce inflammation: whole grains, fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, oily fish, cold-pressed oils, legumes, and ensure the right levels of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Ensuring that we reduce the stress in our lives also has a dramatic impact on our bodies. The vagus nerve is involved in digestion, absorption, and metabolism of nutrients. Unhealthy food, stress, and depression have negative effects on vagal activation. This shows that there is a direct correlation between your brain and gut because stress hinders your guts essential actions. Stress also influences your food choices, and increases insulin resistance. Stress increases maladaptive metabolic responses to unhealthy meals, which affects mood and proinflammatory responses to stressors. Avoid or reducing our stress at home and in the workplace helps us to get the most from the nutrients in our food. To be hopeful about our health we have to take the right action.
To create a hopeful attitude we must use our imaginations to envision positive outcomes, we must develop a plan of action and we must take the necessary steps. Even in our dying days we can create a hopeful legacy; we can pass on our approach, teach others to dream and to fulfill their potential. Nelson Mandela left us hope by living his life with courage, determination, wisdom and belief. He proved that when all else fails, hope triumphs. He never stopped working towards what he believed could happen, against all the odds. He dreamed and he made a difference.
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Nelson Mandela 18th May 2002.
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