“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tunes without the words and never stops at all” Emily Dickinson
I have been studying resilience for over a decade now and realize that, at times, I may have overcomplicated its definition. When it comes down to it, the essence of resilience is simply hope. And hope is powerful. In The Biggest Little Book about Hope, Kathryn Goetzke defines hope as a “positive feeling and inspired action”. Hope energises and mobilizes us, whereas hopelessness leads to despair and paralysis.
Research has shown that hope is small but mighty:
- Hope is good for study. Hope predicts objective academic achievement above intelligence, personality and previous academic achievement (Journal of Research in Personality, 2010)
- Hope is good for business. When it comes to those quarterly goals, hopeful salespeople see more opportunities and hopeful sales managers hit more targets (The Business Case for Hope, Forbes, 2019)
- Hope is good for health. Optimistic patients have a lower risk of recurrence or death with early stage breast cancer (Psychologists, Royal Marsden Hospital) and they are more inclined to manage their illness themselves instead of letting others make most of the decisions
- Hope is good for older age. Hopeful nursing home residents thrived better by being more open to possibilities. (Rush University Medical Centre, Chicago)
- Hope if good for life. PLOS, 2015 (Science publisher) states that hope in some people may be a promising avenue for suicide prevention
In all these cases hope is not defined as ‘happy-clappy’ blind optimism, but as a process of facing reality and finding a solution. And if that solution proves impossible, truly hopeful people look for another.
The good news is that hope is teachable to everyone – from young children to adults (Kirby, 2019). Studies have also shown that encouraging self-efficacy – managing change and surrounding yourself with supportive people – promotes hopefulness. The opposite is also true: if one takes away all control, certainty and lack of social support, feelings of hopelessness ensue.
But resilience, or hopefulness, learnt may need constant topping-up if it is to be effective in the long-term. As an avid reader I often find my boost in books – in particular inspiring biographies, such as Lemn Sissay’s My Name Is Why. His resilience radiates throughout and, despite the bleakness of his childhood, hopefulness triumphs.
Hope is real and matters.