While this image calls me to contemplate the subject of “hope,” one of the experiences I hope for this summer is only somewhat represented here. Eliminate 99.9% of the people and everything else on the sand, and that would be more like the place in Florida where my family has vacationed for the past forty years. At this time of year, this image rekindles that hope.
In the late 80’s, after years of research to formulate a vision for a cable television channel that would serve the authentic needs, wants, interests and aspirations of all segments of society—while improving profitability, I prepared a manuscript entitled Media Of Hope: A Quest For Television That Matters. Due to limited audience appeal it was not published, but one of the many benefits of the research was learning to appreciate the dimensions and significance of hope.
One group of researchers characterized hope as “a multidimensional dynamic life force characterized by a confident yet uncertain expectation of achieving a future good which, to the hoping person, is realistically possible and personally significant.”1 Another group saw it as a “fundamental element of being, influenced by cultural, experiential and biological factors, which motivates human behavior in response to desired future outcomes.”2
Like so many qualities of the human spirit, hope varies along a continuum of lower to higher vibrations. We generally think of hope as positive, but in the realm of esoteric psychology it is considered to be an obstacle to action because it can create a resistance to what’s happening at the moment, promoting an escape from what is. Also on the lower vibrational side, are hopes that are negative or destructive—hoping someone loses so we can win it. These are misguided and “false hopes” because, by disregarding the reality of interconnectedness, the attempt to diminish the other’s good always results in a constriction of our own good. As with forgiveness, the sender participates in whatever is transmitted. Just as a cell that transmits a diseased intention threatens the entire body and therefore itself as a member of that body, so also a cell that transmits a healing message helps heal the entire body including itself. Thus the whole system’s adage, “What we put out we get back.”
Vibrationally higher are hopes which are said to be “flights of fancy” and “wishful thinking.” These can be specific or vague as when we hope to win the lottery or start a business “someday.” The hope is genuine and constructive as far as we can tell, but at the moment there is neither a basis for the hope nor a motivation to move toward what is hoped for, beyond perhaps purchasing a lottery ticket or sharing the business concept with a friend. Above hopeful thinking are “realistic hopes,” those which have some basis in fact or reality. These include hopes to meet an achievable challenge, to find a solution to a problem, to go the distance in a competition or meet a goal by a certain deadline. These hopes may or may not come to fruition, but throughout the process of hoping, there exists a solid reason to expect that they could. Higher yet are what C.R. Snyder calls “mature hopes.” These are action oriented, they have a realistic basis and are goal oriented, involving both the mental “willpower” and “waypower” toward their realization. The will is the driver, thoughts that determine us upon a course of action, and the way consists of thoughts about strategy, where we map out the steps required to accomplish the goal.3 The likelihood of realization is excellent.
Dr. Shlomo Breznitz, a leading clinical psychologist who specializes in hope, identified two hormones, cortisol and prolactin, which “are strongly affected by an attitude of hope.” His research showed that the moment a person makes an internal commitment by deciding “I will make it,” or “I’ll give it a shot,” there’s a secretion of endorphins that immediately alters the person’s physical capacity to realize their hope. What’s more, simultaneously, the challenging situation becomes less painful. His findings show that serious and long term hope “leads to physiological changes that can improve the body’s resistance,” that “the healthiest attitude is a hope that is based on a realistic evaluation of the situation,” and that “thoughts, expectations and hopes affect the body’s stress reactions more than the stressful experience itself.” Mature hope, he emphasizes, “dwells on what is positive about life, but also what’s realistic.”4
Oncologist Carl Simonton who worked with cancer patients found that “feelings of hope can restore balance and revitalize the immune system.” Related and more recent developments in the field of psychoneuroimmunology show that “the two emotions most associated with physical health are the capacity for love, which prompts feelings of security and intimacy, and hope or faith which leads to a sense of meaning and resilience.”5 Another study found that “emotions that encourage more connectedness and awareness appear to be healthy, while those that prompt separation and alienation are unhealthy.”6 Yet another finding was that, compared to low-hope people, “high-hope persons have a greater number of goals, have more difficult goals, have more success at achieving their goals, have greater happiness and less distress, have superior coping skills, recover better from injury, and report less burnout at work.”7
A variety of studies indicate that hope is contagious. What gives us hope as individuals is, in part, observing how others are taking responsibility for solving problems, seeing them transform crisis into opportunity, watching them take charge of their lives and work, and witnessing the constructive or productive results of their initiatives. This is one reason why positive information and inspirational stories in books, movies and on television are so powerful—they give us hope that we too can get through our problems and come out, not only okay, but better for the experience. The potential for hope being realized is especially powerful when the people we see succeeding are like ourselves. The logic works: If they can make fresh decisions and transcend their limited thinking or doing, so can we.
Hope is also contagious at social and national levels. The prime example is the American economy, which fluctuates in tandem with public confidence—a barometer of how realistic our hope is for the immediate future. What makes our hope for the species realistic was, I think, best articulated in a speech given by visionary-futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard. “Nature,” she said, “has an irresistible tendency to form whole systems. There’s no reason to assume that the force that has been operating on planet Earth for fifteen billion years will stop with us. The miracle of our past is witness to Nature’s incredible capacity to transform and form more complex whole systems with the characteristics of higher consciousness, greater freedom, and greater order.”8
The best counter that a person has to images of violence or notions of violence out in the world, of disease, of despair, is being able to conjure images of a better world, of a different world, of a world that’s filled with hope.
About This Image
Title: Clearwater Beach
File #: DC1138
Location: Clearwater, Florida
1. Dufault, Karin, and Martocchio, Benita C., “Hope: Its Spheres and Dimensions,” in Aspects Of Hope: The Proceedings of a Seminar on Hope, Edited by Lamar Carter, Ann Mische and David R. Schwartz. New York: ICIS Center For A Science Of Hope, 1993, p.100.
2. ICIS Center For A Science Of Hope: The Hope Project.
3. Snyder, C.R.. The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There From Here. New York: The Free Press, 1994.
4. Snyder, C.R.. The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There From Here. New York: The Free Press, 1994.
5. “Hopewatch,” Newsletter of the Center For A Science of Hope. Summer, 1996, #5, p.1.
6. Schwartz, Tony. What Really Matters: A Search For Wisdom In America. 1996, p.199.
7. Snyder, C.R.. The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There From Here. New York: The Free Press, 1994. p.24.
8. Hubbard, Barbara Marx. “Toward A Graceful Planetary Transformation.” Speech presented to The Planetary Initiative For The World We Choose, Toronto, Canada, 1983.