I’ve been reflecting recently on the concept of hope and its value to humanity. Interestingly “hope” can take on different definitions depending on the human, so it is important for me to first be clear about what I mean.
By hope, I mean a genuine acknowledgement that growth is possible in some form or fashion, regardless of circumstance. Repeated acknowledgements of this kind can evolve into a hopeful attitude, but in my view, hope is not some sort of absolutist, rigid belief or specific claim about what the future holds. Rather, it is leaning into the possibility of progress and embracing the concepts of perseverance and resilience in the face of challenges.
My primary intention here is to offer a version of hope that is both rational and practical. All too often, we dull out the meaning in what otherwise can be useful, or even profound, ideas because perhaps they become too abstract, convoluted, or trivialized. Once this confusion of meaning takes place, our mental health can begin to falter.
We simply cannot allow this phenomenon to happen to hope. Of course, hope alone doesn’t solve anything. It must be coupled with action in order to make a real difference. However, I still believe hope is an independent and necessary psychological ingredient to overcoming setbacks and restoring clarity of mind.
The fact is we are meaning-making creatures, so I argue that without hope (or a comparable term), our meaning-making systems are at risk of irreparable damage when significantly threatened. Because it is an inherent condition of life that we will face such threats—crises will happen, people will die, communities will struggle— ideas such as hope are necessary to both preserve our mental stability and to sustain human progress, particularly when the most challenging situations arise.
We must be tactful about how we apply hope to our lives, though. I am not advocating for blind hope or any sort of dreamy worldview that denies reality. Clearly, there are times when hope should be redirected because acceptance towards an inevitable outcome is the healthier alternative. Yet the inevitability of an unfortunate outcome does not mean that all hope is defeated.
Going back to the definition I provided, the foundation of hope is the “acknowledgement that growth is possible.” So what does this look like in the midst of human misery? How do we find growth in tragedy? A couple of things come to mind. One, the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom is forever present, so the opportunity to learn and approach life with curiosity will always be there for the taking, no matter what. And two, “who do I want to be during times of struggle?”– one of the deepest questions a human being can ponder– can be put to the test during hardship. This perspective has enormous utility, as it puts significant control back in our hands and provides direction when we would otherwise be lost.
In other words, hope reframes experience. It creates a psychological fork in the road, where growth is a constant option. It also serves as a real world tool that can be applied to real life situations. If hope isn’t in your mental toolbox yet, I highly encourage you to consider it. No dogma, no leaps. Just a rational, practical ingredient to healthy living.