Tools for Living


“Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


We all know the feeling of hope. It’s that little spark of life that flares up in your heart when you accidentally bump into that special someone who doesn’t seem to know that you exist . . . and then she turns and calls you by name and smiles as if you were the best of friends. When that little flicker of hope bursts into flame, everything suddenly seems possible.

But hope is not just a feeling. Like all of the great spiritual principles that have weathered the test of time, it’s also an attitude, a choice, and an action.

When your team is down by two runs in the bottom of the ninth, and there are two outs with no one on base, hope is what inspires the hitless rookie to step up to the plate, determined to put some solid wood on the ball . . . and it’s what keeps the loyal fan in the stands instead of heading for the exit. And when the situation is much more serious – when your life is falling apart, when you’ve suffered a terrible loss, when you’ve been diagnosed with a deadly disease – then hope propels you to pick up the pieces, put one foot in front of the other, and keep going instead of just giving up.

Without hope, we are condemned to powerlessness. Not because the power we need doesn’t exist, or because it isn’t available to us, but rather because we cannot get that power if we will not reach for it. Hope is an attitude that translates into action.

When a jobless man has lost hope of finding work, he no longer looks for it. But when he hears that an employer has an opening for someone with his skills, the feeling of hope gets kindled in his heart. Whether that fragile flicker of hope will burst into a flame that gets him on his feet, or whether it will be snuffed out, depends on his choice. Will he choose an attitude of hope . . . or defeat?

Most of us find it very challenging to choose hope when our hopes have been dashed again and again. We dwell on the defeats we’ve suffered, on the chances against us, on the negative half-empty glass, instead of the half-full one. When we find ourselves in this situation, what can we do to restore our lost hope? Must we depend on an act of God?

Even an act of God might not be enough, as long as we’re determined to reject whatever chance of grace might be offered.

We might not be able to will ourselves into having hope – just as we cannot will a fire to spontaneously start. But we can choose to create the conditions in which hope may thrive, just as we can put together tinder and kindling and a match to start a fire.

So how do we create the conditions for hope to grow in our own hearts and minds, our souls?

First, we can choose to focus on the half-full glass. Look at what there is that might give us reasons to be hopeful, instead of dwelling on the things that crush our hopes.

Second, we can focus on meaningful, realistic goals. For instance, to a newly sober alcoholic the idea of staying sober for the rest of his life is far more than he can reasonably hope for. But the idea of staying sober just for today is far more realistic and attainable, thus more likely to inspire hope and the action necessary to achieve the goal.

Third, we can reach out to others. Studies have shown more hopefulness among those who form meaningful attachments with other people – especially nurturing people, like parents and teachers. Other people can encourage us, help us to feel less alone and overwhelmed, and they can help us to set reasonable goals and identify realistic steps to achieve them.

And last, but far from least, we can reach out toward our higher power in prayer. And note that we don’t have to believe in a personal God to believe in the effectiveness of prayer. Empirical research has shown a correlation between prayer and both our physical health and our psychological sense of well-being. Even forms of prayer that have nothing to do with a concept of God, such as personal affirmations, have proven beneficial.

In short, hope is a powerful spiritual principle that we can apply to any situation in life, if we but choose to take the action necessary to encourage it in our lives.

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Links to more information about Hope:

Joan Chittister at, “Hope Is a Choice”

Also at beliefnet, Naomi Drew on “8 Ways to Increase Hope”

Jerry Lopper summarizes research findings about the link between hope and happiness at Suite 101, here.

The Journal of Research in Personality reports that hope is a better predictor of academic success than intelligence, personality, or previous academic achievement — see Alex Wood’s page.

The University of London Careers Group offers a succinct explanation of Hope Theory.

And C. R. Snyder, et al, offer a more thorough discussion of Hope Theory in “Hopeful Choices: A School Counselor’s Guite to Hope Theory”.

Books about Hope:

C.R. Snyder, The Handbook of Hope: Theory, Measures, and Applications
Explores current psychological findings about hope, including ways of developing it, and how understanding hope makes better teachers, coaches, and parents.

C. R. Snyder and Diane McDermott, Making Hope Happen: A Workbook for Turning Possibilities into Reality A guidebook to help us let go of the past and become hopeful in the present.

Patrick Shade, Habits of Hope: A Pragmatic Theory
A philosophical investigation of hope rooted in personal experience, cultural artifacts, and the American pragmatism of thinkers such as John Dewey and William James.

Jerome Groopman, The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness
A professor at the Harvard School of Medicine, Dr. Groopman explores the role of hope and spirituality in our ability to cope with and heal from serious illnesses.