Hope is a prized possession, yet we have difficulty describing it, defining it, or explaining it.
We each have our own definition of hope, and we generally assume that others hope in the same way we do, but what hope means for you, what you hope for, and how and when you hope are intensely personal considerations. This explains why no one can define hope for another person. Hope researchers consider hope an emotion, a powerful emotion like love, anger, or fear. Hope helps us prevent despair, and it sustains us in times of stress and uncertainty. Perhaps most important of all, we have an endless supply of hope. What we use today can be replenished tomorrow.
Even if temporarily lost, hope, like love, can be recovered and restored.
We often speak of hope as a noun, as something almost tangible that we can find, lose, build, store, or give to others. Yet, it is more than an object. It is an ongoing process that requires a goal and an action, and it implies a probability of obtaining the goal. We hope for something or to achieve something. A useful definition is that “hope is a way of feeling, thinking, and acting.” In this regard, it also becomes a skill that can be mastered, strengthened, and used as needed.
Some people confuse hope with optimism or wishing, or prayer. Optimism is not hope.
Optimism is an attitude and a way of thinking, but it only includes positive thoughts. It puts the best face on any situation and it does not move a person to act as hope does. In fact, optimism, avoiding any negative thoughts, may result in inflexibility because a person refuses to fully evaluate a situation and only considers positive factors.
Similar to optimism, wishing is not the same thing as hope. Hope is always based in reality, there must be some probability, even if slight, of obtaining the goal. Wishing is simply a form of magical thinking. It generally lacks any specific action or plan. In contrast, hope is never passive, and people who hope are willing to take action to achieve their goals.
Prayer also differs from hope.
Prayer is a spiritual communication that can take the form of praise, gratitude, confession, forgiveness, or a request for assistance. Hope can be woven into prayer, and a person may pray to find and maintain adequate hope. Prayer also frequently amplifies hope by providing strength, support, connection, and peace.
As research on hope has advanced over the past fifty years, our understanding of it has expanded and has been further and further refined. We now know that hope can be measured, examined, taught, and enhanced. We know that it impacts our own well-being, our loved ones, and our communities, even our world.
That is why it is so important to always, always choose hope over hopelessness.
Adapted from Choose Hope (Always Choose Hope) by Elizabeth J. Clark. Covenant Books, 2017.