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How Hope Can Save Your Life

Victoria is a stay-at-home mom, author, educator, and blogger at Healthy at Home. She currently lives in Colorado with her family.


When the topic of hope comes up, most people's eyes glaze over more often than not. However, hope is the stuff of change, recovery and healing. The positive physiological effects of hope are well-documented, most eloquently in Jerome Groopman's "The Anatomy of Hope," where he writes: "Researchers are learning that a change in mind-set has the power to alter neurochemistry."

So many people walk through life not knowing where they are heading or what they want from their lives. They wake up and go to work each day, come home, eat and go to sleep, only to repeat the cycle tomorrow. It's easy to get lost in the every day grind, when every day just seems like a repeat of the day before.

Even those with a spouse and children at home can find themselves in the same position. So many have lost hope in having dreams and goals, settling on living a mediocre life, never achieving more than they currently have due to just trying to keep up with life's current challenges.

However, this settling that we all seem prone to when life seems to keep you down is dangerous, and can lead to even more scary outcomes. It's the positive outlook, hope for the future, and dreaming that will keep you from losing yourself in the day to day, and will one day pull you out of the rat race you're in, if you so desire it. You can be the success you want to be in your personal and professional life, if only you're willing to strive for it, and keep that hope that guides you.


Dangerous Statistics

Depression affects approximately 14.8 million American adults in a given year. (Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6): 617-27) These numbers are extremely high. Those are likely hard working individuals that have spent their lives trying to get ahead, with no seeming end in sight. They have lost sight of their dreams and aspirations and have given in, assuming that this is how it will always be. That hope in the future, in better days, and in a time when life won't be so difficult, is gone.

As many as one in every 33 children and one in every 8 adolescents have clinical depression. (Center for Mental Health Services, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 1996) This hopelessness has be passed down to younger generations as well. When they see their parents depressed, having given up, and talking about their difficulties with life, and even having their parents or other adults expressing this cynicism towards life and people with them, they give up as well.

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44, (World Health Organization, 2004) and depression’s annual toll on U.S. businesses amounts to about $70 billion in medical expenditures, lost productivity and other costs. This has become a major societal issue that seems to be contagious. Instead of boosting one another up and spreading encouragement and hope, we are taking out our frustration with life on everyone around us, and it spreads.

Look at the cost of depression in our youth today. Depression is the cause of over two-thirds of the 30,000 reported suicides in the U.S. each year. (White House Conference on Mental Health, 1999) Our children and teenagers have some of the highest rates of suicide right now due to this idea that life will never get better. The bullying will never stop, the abuse at home will never be escaped, and there is no end in sight. What we need as a society is hope.


Defining Hope

Hope is defined as a feeling of expectation or a desire for something specific to happen in the future. It doesn't have to be something outrageous, like winning a million dollars, in order to radically change your life. Simply having the goal to be out of debt, or to be married, or even to have your own home are a wonderful way to start. Hope structures your life in anticipation of the future and influences how you feel in the present.

The positive feelings you experience as you look ahead, imagining hopefully what might happen, what you will attain, or who you are going to be, can alter how you currently view yourself. Along with hope comes your prediction that you will be happy, and this can have amazing behavioral consequences.

Just imagining a different reality for yourself in the future will start to change your behaviors on a daily basis as you continue to focus on that goal. You'll notice one day down the road that you have been moving slowly towards that end goal every day since you set the goal for yourself. It's truly amazing how hope can work wonders in your life, and in your every day behaviors.


The Positive Life Affirming Effects of Hope

It has been proven many times over that those individuals that have an enduring hope for the future, and set goals for themselves, tend to be better at problem-solving, thinking through novel situations, being more open-minded, and even tend to be more flexible. Lack of hope seems to make you desperate and unwavering.

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The way in which a hopeful person handles disappointment also differs from those who are not. Even if the present is unpleasant, the thought of a positive future can be stress-buffering and can reduce the impact of negative events or disappointment. By focusing on the positive in every situation, it may even be possible to avoid fully experiencing the damaging effects of many of the hardships in life altogether.

Individuals with hope for the future tend to be more positive in all situations, and are much healthier too. There is a strong link between illness and depression. As your mental and emotional health can easily determine the strength of your immune system, those that are clinically depressed are generally plagued by disease and illness as well. Diseases like cancer, arthritis, celiac's disease and even asthma are much more prevalent in those individuals also diagnosed with clinical depression.


How Hope Can Help You Heal

In Jerome Groopman's book, "The Anatomy of Hope," he writes, "Belief and expectation -- the key elements of hope -- can block pain by releasing the brain's endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine. In some cases, hope can also have important effects on fundamental physiological processes like respiration, circulation and motor function."

During the course of illness, belief and expectation, the two mental states associated with hope, have an impact on the nervous system which, in turn, sets off a chain reaction that makes improvement and recovery more likely. Studies also show that hope promotes healthy behaviors, including fruit and vegetable consumption, regular exercise, safe sex practices, and quitting smoking.

That's because hope triggers a virtuous cycle. Hopeful people conjure a vision that sustains them, that causes them to show up for the hard work and accept setbacks. They make an investment in the future that pays off in the present, like in the way they eat, exercise, conserve energy, take care of themselves, and even develop relationships. When you have goals to meet and a bright future ahead, you work towards those goals and make sure you're going to be there to enjoy them.


Fostering Feelings of Hope in Your Daily Life

This may seem as easy as simply wishing that life were different or that you were in different circumstances. However, there is a big difference between hoping and wishing. A wish is something that you desire to come true but it has no basis in reality. Wishing can set you up for disaster because there is no effort behind it. You can wish for a million dollars, but if you never go buy that lottery ticket, there's little chance of it happening for you.

Hoping, on the other hand, is having a desire with real expectation. To hope is to believe that there is a real possibility that wonderful things can and will happen. A hopeful person will take steps to make their dreams come true. They will figure out how to set up payments each month to get out of debt, they will begin working on improving themselves in order to be healthy when the right person comes along, and they will work to change their future so buying a home can become a reality.

Hope means believing that your dreams can happen because you are investing your time, energy, and passion toward making them happen. But how do you get to a place mentally and emotionally where you can start dreaming, and hoping for the future again? Check out some of these suggestions for fostering hope in your life again.

  • Think positive. Look for the good in every situation and this will help you feel better about life. Are you stuck in traffic? Maybe it will set you up perfectly to run into someone that will change your life, or save you from a bad situation in front of you.
  • Look at the big picture. Take a look at the big picture and attempt to see things in a new way. All of this hard work now may be setting you up for a big promotion at work. Kids driving you crazy? Consider that all of the effort you are putting into your kids now will pay off when they become successful, capable adults later.
  • Focus on the future. Thinking ahead about how things will change — and how you’d like them to change — can remind you that things won’t be this way forever. Any effort you are putting into that new idea for your future is getting you one step closer.
  • Celebrate your success. Just the fact that you are setting goals for yourself and are working to attain them means you are already a success. It’s okay when things don’t work out as planned. Maybe you've got to take a different route than originally anticipated to reach your goals.
  • Don't give up. You don't have to accomplish all of your goals to change your life and be successful. Each step along the way is an "accomplished" goal. You are already a new person living a different life today. Keep up the great work!
  • Talk to someone. If you are still struggling to find hope in your daily life, speaking to a friend, a family, member, or a counselor can put you on the right path.

Hope is associated with many positive outcomes, including greater happiness, better academic achievement and even a lowered risk of death. It's a necessary ingredient for getting through the tough times, of course, but also for meeting everyday goals. Everyone benefits from having hope.

You can see that allowing this hope to go away, settling for drowning in life's struggles, and letting yourself get lost in the repetition of daily life is dangerous. It can set you up for illness, depression, and even worse outcomes. When hope is so close, and a bright future of your choosing is available, choose the better option for your life. Change it radically by simply dreaming, creating a new future for yourself and pursuing it endlessly. Only you can change your present reality.

Fostering hope and building resiliency are going to be the key to your mental and emotional health. Remember that hope is all around and you can get through whatever is going on in your life. Try to think positive, look at the big picture, and get help when you need it.

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© 2018 Victoria Van Ness

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