Ask people about hope –
and they will tell you a story-
Scholars have not agreed on a definition of hope. Like love, it eludes definition, yet there is consensus that it is a necessary yet unique human experience. There is agreement that it is different than its cousins – faith, coping, resilience, optimism, desire or wishing.
For our purposes let’s think of hope as “ a willingness to envision a future in which we are willing to participate.”
Sasha, a Russian woman in the last days of her life in a palliative care unit told me a story of the time she and her cousin were sent to a labour camp in Siberia. They rose each morning and said to each other, “Someday, we will be in America.” Then, with a broad smile on her face, she sighed and said, “And look. Here I am in America.” Her dream had come true.
Darius, a young man from the slums of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, spoke with pride as he told the story of stowing away on a ship four times and each time being returned to his native county. The fifth time his efforts eventually led to a new life.
Joe, a quadriplegic from a truck accident, with the help of a friend was able to take his son fishing. Only when he was asked by caregivers about what gave him hope did they realize he had a son who was the source of his hope.
Jack, an advanced lymphoma patient, described a bald five year old youngster pushing an intravenous pole and carrying a wooden toy. Young Tommy shuffled up to Jack’s bed, looked directly at Jack with his ocean blue eyes and asked, “Can you fix my toy?”. Jack later shared that that was the moment his hope returned – the moment he believed he could endure the demanding side effects of his own cancer treatment.
Hope stories need not be serious or complicated. They can be simple. Watching young ducklings on their first spring swim. Remembering moments with a grandmother who shared tea with you as a child, treating you like you were her peer. Receiving a letter that confirmed you were accepted to university. Finding a $20 bill on a park bench with no one in sight to even inquire into its owner. Seeing your first poem published. Finding a basket of fresh muffins on your steps just after you have moved into a community.
Most of us could name numerous movies that are basically hope stories – Rudy, Shindler’s List, Eight Below, The Martian, Castaway, My Left Foot. The list is extensive.
Freedom Writers is a hope story based on the power of writing to change lives.
Not all stories are about hopes that are fulfilled. A hope story can be inspiring even when the preferred outcome doesn’t happen. In hope stories though, there is a touch of surprise. Despite the context of adversity and/or uncertainty in the end the story takes a twist. Something is easier than expected, funnier than circumstances would suggest, more possible than imagined.
What is your story ?
Everyone has a hope story. It may be about their whole life or it may be about one time, event, or person that became a lesson in hope. Each aspect of our life has its own story. We have a story about being a parent, a teacher, a caregiver, a spouse. Each is made up of contributing stories. Similarly with hope. There are moments in our lives that make up our hope story. Those moments may or may not be related to times of opportunity, achievements, or adversity. Each person’s hope story is different. The characters, incidents, challenges, allies and enemies will be different. What will be similar is that universal experience we call hope.
This thing called hope
What is this thing called hope? A day with it guarantees nothing. A day without it is difficult. It cannot be x-rayed. It cannot be injected with a needle. As early as 1959, Karl Menninger in his presidential address to the American Psychiatric Community pleaded with the mental health community to pay attention to the “validity of hope”.
Yet, as late at 1988, the word hope was not even a key word in the psychological or medical abstracts. There were voluminous references to depression but none for hope. In the thirty intervening years, hope studies is now a recognized area of study. Hope focused practice is recognized as aligned with therapies that focus on peoples’ stories as key to understanding and enhancing their well-being.
My experience with hope
I was privileged to be a founding member of the Hope Foundation of Alberta, now known as Hope Studies Central. It is one of the few places in the world that specifically studies hope. It has a database that contains over 4500 articles and books specific to hope. Access to the database is free.
For more than a decade, I read about hope, talked with patients about hope, witnessed how people transcended hopelessness in the context of adversity, researched hope, lectured about hope, and taught hope courses for health care providers, educators, clergy, prison inmates, high risk adolescents and university students. I can attest to the power of hope.
The scope of hope is BIG, so we will be revisiting the topic every few months. On the website under Suggested Reading you will find an additional variety of hope readings.
- Finding Hope: Ways to See Life in a Brighter Light: second edition by Ronna Jevne & James Miller
There is something mysterious about hope. You can be in dire straits and have a great deal of hope. You can have everything going your way with little or no hope. Either way, hope has a powerful effect on your life. After explaining what hope is, the authors describe twenty-two specific ideas about how to find hope, keep and build hope in one’s personal life. This book is not just about hope. It is an experience of hope. Insightful quotations for the ages as well as creative black and white photography enhance the text.
Tellwell featured Ronna as Author of the Month for April 2020 in an interview that you might enjoy reading as background to the book.
This recent article how to live from a place of hope speaks to the challenge of sustaining hope during Covid19.
Hope often is challenged in the context of illness. This article Hope and Illness was published on the Hope Café: Brewing optimism 24 hrs a day site.
The recent article Seeking-Hope reviews the mission, history, and activities about the Hope Foundation of Alberta, now known as Hope Studies Central (University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)
This link is for access to the Reference Data Base archives for Hope Studies Central
- HumanKind: Changing the World One Small Act At a time by Brad Aronson.
Want a lift during Covid19 days?
One reviewer says “HumanKind is filled with uplifting stories that will inspire you”. Another says “HumanKind is a celebration of the impact of small choices to transform ourselves the lives of those around us. It offers up inspiring ways for us to make the world better, even amid injustice, tragedy and misfortune.” I say, “HumanKind is a rich source of hope stories that invite us to see the world through the lens of hope.”
Behavior Medicine (2006) reported that the students in the expressive writing group showed significant lower depression symptoms at the 6 month assessment.
The Journal of Positive Psychology (2016). Vol. 11, No.1 reported the influence of a four week positive writing intervention. Rather than writing about difficult times, the intervention focused on writing related to strengths, positive experiences and gratitude. The positive writing group showed a lower dysphoric mood ( despondent – unhappy, uneasy, dissatisfied), fewere worries and less rumination compared to the neutral writing group.
Writing a hope story exercise
Think of a setting in which there is tension, adversity, or uncertainty. It can be in the past, the present, or even the future. For a few minutes write about the context. Take the potential reader to the situation. Where are you? Who else is there? What are you seeing? Pay attention to details of your senses. Notice color, shape, time of day? What if any, smells, are there? What sounds can you hear? What is happening that is a concern? What happens that changes what is expected? What twist occurs? What is it that is funnier, easier, or possible that wasn’t evident initially.
Your stories may or may not be private. If you want to share them, send them along to Prairie Wind or share them with a friend or member of your family. Invite others to share a hope story. Experiment this week. Write or tell a hope story each day.
Sit before this photo for a few minutes. Just sit. Imagine that the photo has a story to tell you. Or perhaps the photo reminds you of a story. We invite you to pick up a pen your your keyboard and let yourself write the story. Let hope come into the story at some point.
Remember that there are no punctuation or grammar police.