The Psychology of Hopefulness

Psychology of Hopefulness

Haley Neidich, LCSW
Clinical Director, ThriveTalk.com

Hopefulness refers to an optimistic attitude and mindset that allows you to see the bright side of things and plan for a better future. This concept represents one of the central elements of Positive Psychology – an emerging field which aims to help people discover their inner strengths and use them to cultivate resilience and well-being.

But hopefulness is more than just a hot topic for curious researchers and healthcare professionals. This psychological dimension of well-being can help you cope with life’s difficult moments without falling victim to discouragement and negativity.

As Scott Barry Kaufman brilliantly puts it, hope is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system. [1]

What is Hopefulness Really?

As a psychological construct, hopefulness represents our tendency to approach life (and the future) in a way that fosters positivity and healthy optimism. In other words, it’s about focusing on favorable outcomes even when life throws you a curveball.

But if we are to look at hopefulness from a more practical perspective, experts believe there are numerous ways to implement this construct into our day-to-day lives.

Unlike optimism – which can sometimes lead to wishful thinking and unrealistic expectations – hopeful thinking is more goal-oriented. When you look at life from a hopeful perspective, you don’t just sit around waiting for good things to happen; you create your own version of “Heaven on Earth.”

You set goals, invest resources, scout for opportunities, and use hope as inspiration to achieve the outcome you desire.

Goals

Goal setting and goal planning represent critical aspects for those of us who wish to cultivate a hopeful attitude. In fact, the willingness to pursue specific goals is what makes the difference between hopefulness and optimism.

Dreaming about a better future is just not enough. If you wish to exercise authentic hopefulness, you need to give yourself not just the incentives but also the means to create that bright future.
If you want to practice hopefulness, start by setting (and pursuing) some goals.

Agency

Aside from goal setting, there are plenty of other techniques you can use to transform hopefulness into something “tangible” and results-oriented.

For example, reminding yourself of past successes is a great way to motivate and inspire yourself when life has taken a turn for the worse. You can even keep a journal of all your accomplishments and browse it whenever you’re feeling down and discouraged.

Another way to cultivate hopefulness is through laughter. Yes, you heard it right. Getting a good laugh can help you set aside negativity for a moment and see yourself (and the whole world) in a better light. In fact, studies indicate that humor can positively impact psychological and physical well-being. [2]

Pathways

There are times when life knocks you to the ground so hard that it almost feels like there’s no point in hoping for a brighter future. But when you feel like you’ve reached rock bottom, remember that the only possible way to go is up.

Hope is something that we can find and hold on to even in the darkest of times. There’s always a path you can take, and hopefulness is what will give you the courage to start from scratch.
Sometimes a hopeful attitude means giving up on an old path in favor of a new and better one.

Why does Hopefulness Matter?

Hopefulness is the driving force behind every great endeavor. Because it allows you to envision positive outcomes, a hopeful attitude creates the ideal climate for growth, fulfillment, and success.

By hoping to reach a specific goal, you ‘push’ yourself to take that first step and play an active role in the achievement of your goal. Hopefulness is what inspires you to write the first sentence of what you believe will be a best-selling novel or ace the job interview that will jumpstart your career.

In a world where you sometimes have little control over how things unfold, hopefulness allows you to sail smoothly through life’s ups and downs.

Hope Is Related to Positive Results

In a comprehensive and insightful article published by the American Psychological Association, Kirsten Weir details the numerous benefits hopeful thinking can have on your overall sense of health and well-being. [3]

As multiple studies have pointed out, hopefulness can:

  • Lead to a greater sense of meaning in life
  • Lower the symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Increase your chances of achieving success

    Help you become more productive.

It’s incredible to see how a shift in attitude can generate so many positive outcomes.

Hope is a Process

Many experts believe that hopefulness is not just a state of mind but also a process. You get to experience that warm and comforting feeling associated with hopefulness only when you transition from a pessimistic to an optimistic view.

Finding reasons to smile every day, getting a good laugh, or recalling past accomplishments are just some of the ways to acquire a positive mindset. And once the future begins to look brighter and brighter, the motivation to pursue whatever you believe will bring you happiness and fulfillment will flow naturally.

Hopefulness is the process through which you train your mind to remain focused on the ‘positives’ despite being perfectly aware of the ‘negatives’ as well.

How to Build Hopefulness

Aside from the practices we’ve already talked about, there’s one more effective way to cultivate hopefulness. It’s called ‘visualization,’ and it refers to the process of creating a mental picture of your desired outcome.

The reason why we often fail to consider a potentially positive outcome is that we get caught up in negativity and discouragement. But your mind is equally capable of producing both positive and negative scenarios. All that it needs to visualize a favorable outcome is a bit of guidance.

Next time you face a challenging project, try to visualize a favorable outcome deliberately. Use as many details as possible. Imagine how you’ll feel once you complete the project, how others will react, and what changes will occur in your life as a result of this accomplishment.

If you’re looking for more specific or individualized help in building hopefulness, this is an area where life coaches and therapists often specialize. Therapists especially, far from merely treating mental illness, often focus heavily on helping clients achieve growth in many areas of life, including hopefulness.

In the end, hopefulness is the process that transforms us from pessimistic worriers into optimistic achievers.

References
[1] S. B. Kaufman, “The Will and Ways of Hope,” Psychology Today, 26 December 2011. [Online]. Available: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beautiful-minds/201112/the-will-and-ways-hope.
[2] A. P. Vilaythong, R. C. Arnau, D. H. Rosen and N. Mascaro, “Humor and hope: Can humor increase hope?” International Journal of Humor Research, 2006.
[3] K. Weir, “Mission impossible,” American Psychological Association, October 2013. [Online]. Available: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/10/mission-impossible.aspx.

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