How Hope Can Improve Your Life, Backed By Research
There’s a scientific reason to have hope
Everyone says “have hope.” Is that just silly pollyanna optimism?
No. Actually there’s a science to hope.
In 1991, positive psychologist Charles Snyder and colleagues came up with “hope theory.” According to their theory, hope consists of agency and pathways. The person who has hope has the will and determination to achieve goals and a set of various strategies at their disposal to reach their goals. Put simply: Hope involves the will to get there and different ways to get there.
Hope is “not just a feel-good emotion.” Hope is predictive.
Those without hope avoid bigger challenges, quit earlier, and act helpless.
These results suggest that hope, as defined by Snyder and colleagues, is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system. According to hope theory, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way around. Hope-related cognitions are important: Snyder and his colleagues proposed that a person’s level of hope leads him or her to choose learning or performance goals. According to their theory, those lacking hope typically adopt performance goals and choose easy tasks that don’t offer a challenge or opportunity for growth. When they fail, they quit. They act helpless and feel a lack of control over their environment. They don’t believe in their capacity to obtain the kind of future they want. In other words, they have no hope.
Hope isn’t just wishful thinking. It’s related to positive outcomes.
People who scored higher in hope had higher GPA’s and did better academically.
Whether measured as a trait or as a state, hope is related to positive outcomes. In one study, researchers looked at the impact of hope on college academic achievement over the course of six years. Hope was related to a higher GPA six years later, even after taking into account the original GPA and ACT entrance examination scores of the participants. High-hope students (relative to low-hope students) were also more likely to have graduated and were less likely to be dismissed from school due to bad grades.
Hope doesn’t just make you a better student, it also makes you more creative.
In more recent research, Liz Day and her colleagues found that hope was related to academic achievement above and beyond IQ, divergent thinking (the ability to generate a lot of ideas), and conscientiousness. In that study, hope was measured as a trait. In a recent undergraduate thesis study, Rebecca Görres found that situational hope was related to divergent thinking. In her study, participants who were instructed to think hopefully (e.g., “What motivates you to pursue your goal?,” “What are your alternative pathways to reach your goal?”) were better at making remote associations, generated a higher quantity of ideas, and added more details to their ideas compared to those who weren’t instructed to think hopefully. The link between hope and divergent thinking makes sense, considering that divergent thinkers are good at coming up with lots of different ideas (see Chapter 12) and hope involves coming up with a number of different strategies for obtaining a goal.
As I’ve posted before, hope predicts achievement better than intelligence, grades or personality.
It actually predicts law school GPA better than the LSAT.
In another study, Kevin Rand and his colleagues found that hope, but not optimism, predicted grades in law school above and beyond LSAT scores and undergraduate grades. Interestingly, LSAT scores were not a significant predictor of law school GPA. It appears that law school performance might be better predicted by a twelve-item measure of hope than completion of a standardized entrance exam!
Okay, okay, so hope is a good thing.
(For more on how to be successful and happy, click here.)
I know what you’re asking: How can I be more hopeful?
How you can have hope
As I’ve posted before, research shows that both hope and despair can be self-fulfilling prophecies.
A simple exercise before a challenge can increase your level of hope — and your results.
A recent study by Duckworth, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Benjamin Loew, Oettingen, and Gollwitzer asked a group of high school students preparing for the high-stakes, standardized Preliminary SAT (PSAT) to complete a thirty-minute written intervention that involved mental contrasting (vividly imagining the goal and writing down possible obstacles) with implementation intentions (coming up with two if-then contingency plans if an obstacle presents itself). They found that students undergoing the intervention completed more than 60 percent more practice questions on the PSAT compared to a placebo control group who were instead asked to write about an influential person or event in their life.
So let’s break this down. Before a big challenge:
- Imagine your goal.
- Write down anything that might stop you from achieving it.
- Come up with a few contingency plans to address those obstacles.
- Rule the world.
Just doing those three things can increase your level of hope and dramatically improve how well you perform.
This little bit of planning not only addresses real issues, it improves your feeling of control over the situation.
(For more on how to stop being lazy and get more done, click here.)
You now have a reason to believe you’ll do well. That’s hope.
One More Thing
Life’s not all about “improving performance.”
Hope also makes you happier.
So how does hope stack up against other psychological resources? Philip R. Magaletta and J. M. Oliver measured hope, self-efficacy, and optimism and found that hope stood head and shoulders above the other vehicles. They also found specific effects: The will component of hope predicted well-being independent of self-efficacy, and the ways component of hope predicted well-being independent of optimism.
Better performance, creativity and happiness.
Give it a shot. It can work. C’mon, have a little hope.
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