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Got Hope?

Human hope is the greatest power in life…. – Eugene O’Neill

If you were an evil genius and wanted humanity to suffer and die a long and painful demise, the thing you’d do is deflate hope. Conversely if you wanted to help humanity thrive and be prosperous, you’d do whatever you could to pump up hope.

Think I’m overstating the case for hope? According to researchers like C.R. Snyder and Shane Lopez, hope correlates more than intelligence with success, health, and happiness! You simply can’t keep hopeful people down.

We’ve all heard the popular maxim, “where’s there’s a will, there’s a way.” There’s truth to that. Willpower is part of the formula for hope, but there’s more.

Clearly it is not yet January when we start the year afresh, but it is the beginning of advent in which many Christians around the world ready themselves to open their hearts and their minds toward wonderful possibilities...way beyond their imagination. I got hooked yesterday and today reviewing the research and stories on hope which I typically do after the holidays. These days, however, so many need hope help that I decided to start the season of advent.

Snyder tells the story of Carol who was a forty-five-year old woman. Carol’s husband left her; she was despondent without any life direction. Carol claimed she had no skills or talent. In her words, she was at the “bottom of a big hole.”

Snyder asked her what she could use as a ladder to climb out of that hole. She paused and considered several options. Then she announced, “I’m going to go to college!”

As Carol and Snyder continued to talk, Carol nailed down what she was going to do with the college degree in terms of a job. Carol’s enthusiasm brightened and her despair lifted.

Once Carol identified her “waypower" (college), she sparked hope. Snyder offers the following formula for hope: Hope= willpower + waypower for goals. Lopez says the same thing a bit differently. Be prepared for a bit of jargon. Don’t let it bother you, it will all come together.

Lopez says that hope is a potent way of thinking about the future with a three-part process. One part of the process involves setting goals that matter to us – goals that fill our minds with pictures of the future (and yes, make them S.M.A.R.T. - think that idea has been around long enough not to need more explanation).

Another part of the hope process involves what psychologists call “agency.” Agency is about having determination, motivation, and perseverence for our goals. Agents believe they can make things happen.

The third part of the process, Lopez calls “pathways.” Hopeful people seek out and identify multiple pathways. Then they pick the most appropriate one for their situation. People high in hope know they will experience obstacles, but that can figure out ways around them.

When we want to pump up our hope we look at each of these three elements – goals, agency, and pathways. Or goals, willpower, and waypower.

It becomes clear then, that hope is different from wishful thinking, positivity, or optimism. Hope is not just about big dreams and visions. Hope is solid; hope builds foundations under castles in the air.

Here are some questions I ask myself when I’m wanting to check my hope foundations.


Is the goal I am setting something I really want ? Why?

Does my goal stretch my performance (not too easy, but not totally unbelievable)?

Is my goal specific and concrete; can I “see it”? Can I recognize progress?

Willpower (agency):

Can I think of my goal as a challenge that stimulates me to grow in ways I want to grow?

Can I recall times in the past when I’ve accomplished a difficult goal and bring it back to mind?

Waypower (pathways):

Can I break this big goal into steps or subgoals?

Can I see different strategies for accomplishing my goal?

Some of us are better at envisioning the future – setting good goals, having more willpower and determination, or more creativity and waypower. But goals, willpower, and waypower don’t exist in a vacuum. They can reinforce each other. I'm thinking of Carol’s college story. Once she identified her waypower, everything else became easier.

Understanding that these three elements interact is important because many of us may feel that we don’t have a lot of willpower, especially when we are feeling unhopeful. For example, many years ago I thought getting a Ph.D. seemed like a cool idea. When I ran into difficulty four years down the road, my determination fizzled. I panicked. If only I had my husband’s willpower I thought. This whole doctorate thing was turning out to be harder than anything I had previously done.

Then I realized that as I came up with better plans about how I could finish my I strengthened my waypower (I broke down the goal down into a number of smaller steps and asked a friend...thank you, Suzanne, to be my accountability partner), I automatically pumped up my willpower, my hope, and my success. (BTW, this is why I keep drjunedarling as part of my email address, even though it may seem a bit pretentious...I use it to remind myself that I can do hard things).

Many of us may think we’re too old for all this. But the most successful agers, continue to be hopeful. They become purveyors of hope. They help their children, grandchildren, and others by asking them about their plans for tomorrow, their goals. They help them strategize. They share in their excitement. They help them think through possible problems and how they might get around them (Some of you have shared your own stories about this with me...and I always like to hear more).

Where there’s a will AND a way AND a well-crafted goal, that’s where you’ll find hope. And where you find hope, you’ll see happiness, success, and the good life.

This year I’m going to start pumping up my hope not on January 1st but right now. Here are several things I'll do. Watch the movie, Shawshank Redemption again (this movie has a lot of prison brutality but is all about hope. Despite the main character's circumstances, hope keeps him from being “institutionalized” like the other prisoners. He writes in a letter... “Hope is a good thing, may be best of things and no good thing ever dies.") Pull up Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on And I'll play that Frank Sinatra song that came out when I was nine...High hopes...think of that little ant.

How might we get an early start on a good year, but pumping up our hope during the advent season?


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