To have hope is to want an outcome that makes your life better in some way. It not only can help make a tough present situation more bearable but also can eventually improve our lives because envisioning a better future motivates you to take the steps to make it happen.
Whether we think about it or not, hope is a part of everyone’s life. Everyone hopes for something. It’s an inherent part of being a human being. Hope helps us define what we want in our futures and is part of the self-narrative about our lives we all have running inside our minds.
What Is Hope, Exactly?
The definition of hope can differ depending on the person doing the talking. When people speak about hope in a spiritual context, it might mean believing good things will happen with faith in a higher power. They might direct their hopes outward in prayer.
For others, it might mean always looking on the bright side and seeing challenges as opportunities. In other words, always “hoping for the best.”
Merriam-Webster’s definition makes “hope” seem close to “wish”: “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true.”
Whatever the details, hope in general means a desire for things to change for the better, and to want that better situation very much.
Hope Is Not Optimism
Hope is not the same as optimism. An optimistic generally is more hopeful than others. On the other hand, the most pessimistic person you ever met can still be hopeful about something. Hope is very specific and focused, usually on just one issue.
Such as “I hope I get that job I interviewed for” or “I hope she calls me.” Or, for a little kid during the holidays, “I hope I get that bike I wanted!”
Why Hope Is So Vital
Most people associate hope with a dire situation. People hope to get out of difficult circumstances. That is often when people do find themselves hoping fervently! But hope also can provide the key to making everyday life better.
That’s because just envisioning something hopeful – the child seeing herself riding her new bike, for example – gives a person a moment of happiness, according to Psychology Today. It can make present difficulties much easier to bear.
An example of that is reported by the American Psychology Association. Children who grew up in poverty but had success later in life all had one thing in common – hope. Dr. Valerie Maholmes, who worked on the research, said hope involves “planning and motivation and determination” to get what one hopes for.
In a way, having hope links your past and present to the future. You have a vision for what you hope will happen. Whether it does not, just envisioning it can make you feel better. And if it’s something you can somewhat control – like the kids working to get out of poverty – then hope can motivate you to take whatever steps you need to take.
Dr. Neel Burton, a book author who writes about emotions, writes that he always asks patients for what they hope for, because if they say “nothing” then that is a sign of depression or worse.
Having hope is important to the very act of being a human being. As Dr. Judith Rich writes, “Hope is a match in a dark tunnel, a moment of light, just enough to reveal the path ahead and ultimately the way out.”