Hope – one of positive psychology’s cornerstones

Where there is life, there is hope, my mom always says. She’s been using that saying for at least three decades that I know of.

She started using it first in pure desperation when we didn’t think my brother, who had been paralysed in a major car accident, would make it (he did), and she hasn’t stopped using it since. And of course, given the history of my family, she has had good reason to grasp onto hope.

My mom and dad, the mother and father of positive psychology in my life, impressed on all my brothers, sisters and I, the virtues of hope.

An inordinate amount of pain and suffering we have had to endure has always been met with the hope that we would survive it, and we did.

This hope instilled in all of us a remarkable sense of resilience in the world.

In South Africa, hope has time and again proven the skeptics wrong. A bloodbath predicted in 1994 never happened, a year later the winning of the Rugby World Cup took place amid a high-hope nation and the soccer World Cup 2010, with doomsayers saying it would never happen on African soil, kicked off here yesterday.

Hope calls people to action. The opposite of hope, says Dr Helgo Schomer, local radio personality, academic and practicing psychologist, is fear.

“Fear leaves people spiritless, visionless and lacking in energy. Hope, on the other hand, feeds those very things. It energises people into action, it strengthens the spirit and it creates vision. It nourishes the soul and brings a lightness of being.

“People with hope engage fully with life,” says Dr Schomer.

Volunteers are probably one of the most hopeful groups in society. These people have hope – if they didn’t they wouldn’t bother doing anything – and this hope, when put into action, has a snowball effect.

At a recent workshop in Cape Town on the Earth element which Dora and Jeremy ran, as statistic after statistic was being read out of how species were becoming extinct, rain forests were being destroyed and pollution was destroying the atmosphere, people openly sobbed. The statistics were so bad that one almost felt hopeless to affect any change.

But as the workshop continued and each person could start seeing how their contribution, however small, could not only make a difference, but was urgently needed, the atmosphere in the hall changed.

It went from being one of no-hope to one of optimism. People, when they realised that something could be done, were energised and all left with an undertaking to take action in realistic ways.

That night after the workshop, I phoned my parents. “Did you know mom, there are only 650 mountain gorillas left in the entire world,” I said, my heart aching for this species.

“Mmmm, 650. So, there are still 650….” she replied.

I knew what was coming next.

“Vivi, remember angel, there is still life there, and……where there is life, there is hope.”

In that moment I saw so clearly how hope is not that elusive. How it is in fact a call to action and why, sometimes, the seemingly easier route – yet the most devastating of all – is not to see the hope at all.

* An article which I wrote and which was published in this month’s Psychologies SA mag (June/July 2010) was based on these thoughts. You will find a full in-depth look at the psychology of hope in that article.

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One response to “Hope – one of positive psychology’s cornerstones

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