How do we define it?

Driving along a motorway recently, I looked up to see a quote from Bear Grylls “You can last 4 days without water, 40 days without food, but how long can you last without hope?”

It is an interesting question. Hope certainly seems indispensible. But what is it? How do we define it? In the midst of the swirl of the mess and brokenness of life, how do we hold onto hope for the future? When we are weary and burdened, where do we find that hope to continue?

For most of us, Hope is something which comes into its own when times are difficult, which motivates us to action where possible, towards noble purposes, helps us stay positive and which may well be invested in someone else – we may need to hope in a friend, work team, surgeon or even God himself.

A philosopher’s definition

One definition I particularly like is by Vaclav Havel, playwright, philosopher and one time prime minister of the Czech republic. “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

I have spent the last few years exploring many facets of Hope as part of a post graduate psychology thesis, and yet I find it hard to move past Havel’s quote. It acknowledges that hope is more than having goals for the future, but a connection with a deeper sense that the future will have inherent meaning. I would add that what differentiates hope from optimism is that hope includes us being poised to act to bring about this meaningful future whenever possible. It is this paradox of waiting in anticipation while prepared to act at any minute, which gives us that slightly heady adrenalin rush to our feelings of hope.

Hope has shifted over the last few centuries

How we understand hope is very revealing about our view of the world. In his insightful book The Real American Dream, Andrew Delbanco writes that hope has shifted over the last few centuries from having its source in God, to hope in the nation (representing the Enlightenment idea of humanity striving together for progress) but that now in a Postmodern world, hope has shrunk to the “vanishing point of Self alone”.

It seems so impoverished to simply hope in ourselves, in our own success or accomplishments. To hope in a future that makes sense, implies that rather than us having to create meaning as we accomplish our goals, life is seen as intrinsically meaningful. And how we strive to articulate, connect with and be ready to act on what we find to be deeply meaningful may well be the key to having hope.

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