Human beings can live without a lot of things, but we can’t live without hope.
On difficult days, hope helps get us out of bed in the morning. It inspires us to reach for better, to do more. It helps us endure through unimaginable trauma. It makes us happier. Whether we’ve acknowledged it or not, hope has helped most of us through the hardest times in our lives.
In a very moving recent speech — her last as First Lady — Michelle Obama praised the power of hope, and we loved what she had to say:
“It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and the life of this country,” she said. “Our hope that if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us.”
Hope Overcomes Despair
A remarkable 2015 study showed that hope can be a powerful component in raising people permanently out of poverty. It followed 21,000 impoverished people in Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan, and Peru, and found that providing people with a resource (in this instance, a cow) and teaching them how to manage it was key to a better future. Giving these people money isn’t enough; when they have the skills and the tools to succeed, they have hope — and hope is what helps them improve their lives in the long term.
Marlise Karlin, mindfulness pioneer, humanitarian and founder of SOS Method, has traveled to some of the world’s most conflict-ridden regions to share the SOS programs — places where hope is often in short supply.
In Rwanda — a nation rocked by a horrific civil war that pitted neighbors against neighbors and left hundreds of thousands dead — Marlise was astonished to see how profoundly SOS influenced people’s states of mind, shifting them from hopelessness to optimism. 24 hours after starting the program, one woman who had seen several family members killed in front of her said, “Now I feel hope, for myself, and for my children.” She said it was the first time since the conflict ended that she had this feeling.
But hope isn’t just for people who’ve endured horrific trauma. All of us can benefit from more hope in our lives.
Hope Makes Us Happier
“Belief and expectation — the key elements of hope — can block pain by releasing the brain’s endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine,” said Jerome Groopman in his book, “The Anatomy of Hope.” “In some cases, hope can also have important effects on fundamental physiological processes like respiration, circulation and motor function.”
In addition to fueling those feel-good brain chemicals, hope can also help protect us from that deadly, all-too-prevalent state of being: stress, aka, cortisol overload.
Shane Lopez, author of the book “Making Hope Happen,” says that hope can help buffer anxiety and the effects of negative life events. Research shows that hopeful employees enjoy more well-being, and a Gallup poll showed that hopeful people laugh and smile more than hopeless people. And who doesn’t want to laugh more?
Hope even encourages healthy habits, like eating more fruits and veggies, quitting smoking, and exercising.
While it may not be something we think about day to day, hope is an incredibly important part of personal resilience. If we want to grow, thrive, and succeed, we need to cultivate our sense of hope — and meditation is a wonderful way to do so.