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2024 - We Did it! - Now Let's Make it a Great Year, with Hope.

Most people hope for something.

The big things: An end to the pandemic. Their candidate to w‌in the presidential election. A better future for their children. They hope for tangible things: a bigger paycheck, a safe home, good health. And the more amorphous ones: love, respect, to feel seen. 

Recent polls show that while most Americans remain at least somewhat hopeful about the future, hope is being tested. Suffering and division are ever-present, and there doesn't seem a clear path forward. But psychologists say hope is not a luxury. For mental health, it's a necessity. 

Contrary to how some people talk about hope, researchers don't view it as a passive emotional state. While colloquially people may say things like, "sit back and hope for the best," researchers who study hope say it's an active coping approach. 

"Hope is how we can think about our goals for the future, the extent that we can identify pathways or strategies to achieve those goals and then maintaining the motivation or the agency to kind of keep working towards those goals, even in the face of obstacles or setbacks," said Matthew Gallagher, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Houston.

In a paper Gallagher published in 2013, he and other researchers looked at whether people expected their lives five years in the future to be good or better than their current ones. The study included more than 100,000 people from over 100 countries and found that worldwide, people tend to have positive expectations for the future – they often believe it can be as good or equal to the present. 

Although hope and optimism are sometimes used interchangeably, researchers say they are distinct. Hope is about using personal agency to achieve a desired outcome. Optimism is when people expect good things to happen more than bad ones. 

"Both are about positive expectations for the future but one is about the individual driving work towards their goals ... and the other is that we believe things are going to work out and we're not sure how," Gallagher said.

Hope isn't always easy, but it is effective in helping people flourish across many domains, including work and school. It's galvanizing.

"Hope brings oxygen into our consciousness," Colier said. "If we generate hope, then we are motivated. We're motivated to act because we feel that there's possibility that the outcome that we want might happen. If we don't have hope, where do we find motivation?"


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