Storytellers

Cultivating Hope

Cultivating Hope

We have all heard the phrase “have hope”, however, is it simply a feel-good emotion thrown around or is it wishful thinking or is there some truth to the statement?

Growing up in a conservative Middle Eastern country, in a somewhat traditional Sri Lankan home, I was always hopeful of realizing my goal of becoming a journalist – preferably a political reporter using my pen as my tool to change the world and make the invisible visible. When my peers were taking the conventional route of getting married young for stability or choosing financially viable careers, I never lost sight of my goal and with a great support system, I completed my undergrad education and landed a journalism gig straight out of school. I believe I achieved what I set out to do because I was always hopeful that I can create my own reality.

Youth and Hopelessness

I think of kids today and I worry because the news, so easily available at our fingertips, and pretty much every headline seems like an assault on the very notion of hope – school shootings, families torn apart at the border, trans rights under attack, climate change being refuted etc.  And then the content children are exposed to – including superhero movies – have the hero resorting to violence or killing the bad guy to come into power. This constant influx can result in the youth feeling hopelessness that the world around them is beyond their control.
Yet, research has found that adolescents who are hopeful enjoy academic success, develop strong friendships, are more creative and better at problem solving, have lower levels of anxiety, are less likely to drop out of school and do not give up when faced with obstacles.

Can We Learn Hope?

Thankfully, the work of American Psychologist Charles ‘Rick’ Snyder, a pioneer in hope research, shows us that hope can be learnt.
He adopted a three pronged approach to understanding hope: goals, agency and pathways. According to this approach, individuals who are hopeful have the motivation and a clearly defined plan to achieve their goals.
It is not just a general feeling that good things will come rather it is the focus on goals, setting it apart from optimism and wishful thinking. Having hope is to imagine a happy ending and figuring out the means to get there. This is good news for anyone who has a part to play in shaping the next generation.

Barriers to Hope

In order to cultivate hope in the next generation, it is first important to understand some of the triggers of hopelessness.
We live in an age where we are constantly bombarded with information from digital platforms to social blogs. It is no surprise that all ages are avid consumers of social and digital media and this is especially true for pre-teens and teenagers. Increased exposure to digital information can have a positive impact on a teenager as it helps normalize diversity in the world around them, increasing awareness on political and social issues that impact them (for example, the Parkland survivors were instrumental in increasing the number of younger voters in the recently concluded midterms) and even encourage them to explore forms of self-expression like creating blogs.

However, this increased exposure can also have a detrimental effect on cultivating hope.

Instant gratification is one of the downsides of the digital age. Teenagers today are no longer willing to follow the advice that slow and steady wins the race rather, their short attention spans and their need for immediate results is affecting their willingness to work hard in achieving their goals. For example, gone are the days where teenagers poured over books to complete an assignment, now they would rather get the cliff notes version on the internet to quickly put something together.

Peer acceptance is important for teenagers and they are always worried about how they will be perceived by their friends. Teenagers today glean their approval rating from the likes and comments they get on their social profiles and spend a great deal of time trying to prune their online identity, sometimes with a disconnect to who they are. The constant pressure to be someone you are not can result in them not feeling good about themselves leading to a lack of hope and self-doubt. British vlogger Dina Tokio in her book Modestly talks about how she stopped playing sports when she started wearing the hijab because she thought she did not look good playing soccer wearing the hijab. This resulted in her developing body image issues in her later teenage years.

Cultivating Hope

All hope is not lost and there are some ways, research has shown, to cultivate hope:

1. Set clear, attainable goals – Create a big picture of what is important to you and what you want to achieve. A great way to do this is by creating a vision board or writing a personal mission statement. Think about where you want to be in terms of academics, relationships, family, personal interests and it even helps to add bucket list items like places you want to travel to. Then arrange your goals in the order of importance. This is helpful for adolescents with little hope so they do not get distracted by trying to achieve everything in a short span of time and resulting in burnout.

2. Set a clear task plan for achieving goals – Someone with low hope thinks all goals need to be accomplished all at once and this can be very overwhelming for them. By creating a step-by-step task plan, those with low hope can celebrate the completion of each task keeping them motivated till they achieve their goal.  For example, if you want to buy a new car, start by creating a checklist of task beginning with narrowing down on car options to checking details of requirements such as registration and insurance.

3. Visualize different paths to a goal – If you suffer from low hope, chances are one of your greatest challenges in achieving your goals is the inability to move past obstacles and abandoning your goal at the first sign of a hurdle. Visualizing different paths to a goal will help in overcoming obstacles that seem insurmountable and will give you the motivation to take the road less traveled.

4. Identify ‘hope providers’ – As you take on new tasks and dive into the unknown to achieve your goals, it is important to surround yourself with motivators. This can be parents, friends, your partner, or even a teacher – someone you can turn to when you encounter obstacles or just need reassurance that you are on the right track.

5. Bombard yourself with stories of success - Hopeful people are inspired by the stories of success, especially when they are faced with obstacles. Make sure to capture the full story of a person’s success and the failures they had to go through to achieve their goals. Research has shown that seeing the underdog in movies attaining their goals against all odds can act as a motivator and make people more hopeful. For example, even seemingly innocent cartoons such as Mulan and Frozen showcase the main character going through hardship before achieving success.

6. Enjoy the journey – More often than not, the focus is on attaining the goal without focusing on the joys in achieving it. By creating a task checklist, this can be avoided by celebrating little milestones along the way!

Journalist-turned-Marketer Yusra Farzan currently serves as a Project Manager at the Center for Scholars + Storytellers, UCLA. Previously, she has managed strategic communications, content development and cultural insights tracking for Fortune 500 and leading UAE brands. She is passionate about the empowerment of underprivileged youth of color and in increasing representation and inclusion in media and marketing.

In her leisure time, she likes reading and traveling. Connect with Yusra on LinkedIn here.


This blog was originally created to support Baylor University in hosting its Technology Innovation Request for Proposal: Improving Character Strengths of Adolescents through Technology Innovation.

Creating Vitality Through Hope

Vitality Through Hope

“You can do it!”

“I believe in you!”

“Never give up!”

Each of these common motivational phrases is centered around the idea of cultivating one of the earliest and most crucial human virtues to develop: the virtue of hope. Hope is often defined as a wish, and with it an expectation, that something good will happen. Herein lies the beauty of the human mind: when we imagine and believe in a positive outcome, we actually increase our likelihood of achieving that outcome. Over the past few decades, scientists have found time and time again that hope is related to positive outcomes such as greater happiness, increased academic success, and an overall sense that life is meaningful. Therefore, it may come as no surprise that a great emphasis is placed on the importance of increasing hope in children.

Psychological Research on Hope

In his theory of hope, psychologist Charles Snyder described three components that he viewed as fundamental to this virtue: goals, agency, and pathways. Setting and achieving goals is integral for healthy human development. Agency refers to the belief and motivation that we can achieve our goals, while pathways are the set of steps necessary to accomplish the desired outcome. According to this theory, hope is essential for every step of decision making.

In fact, research has shown that children and adolescents with higher levels of hope tend to develop many life goals, they focus on success rather than failure when working towards their goals, and view themselves as capable of solving any problems that might arise. In addition, hopeful youth are generally more optimistic and have higher self-esteem and better mental health. We all know that being hopeful feels good, but these studies demonstrate that hope is also healthy.

Losing and Learning Hope

Perhaps the most striking way to see the power of hope lies in the cases where hope has been lost. Rates of depression have been rising, especially amongst teenagers; a key symptom of depression is a feeling of hopelessness. In a study investigating the relationship between hope and depression in adolescents, hopelessness was found to be the key predictor of depressive symptoms and suicidal behavior. Similarly, hope is negatively related to symptoms of depression in both children and teens. Taken together, these results suggest that higher levels of hope may protect individuals from the effects of negative life events on mental health. Therefore, psychologists suggest interventions for developing youth aimed at building positive expectations and optimism.

Fortunately, studies suggest that almost anyone can be taught to be more hopeful. Interventions aimed at increasing hope in children and adolescents have been successful in enhancing hope in all students, regardless of initial hope levels. In one study, scientists created a 5-week hope-based intervention for middle school students that was designed to increase hope, life satisfaction, self-worth, mental health, and academic achievement. This intervention harnessed the power of parents, teachers, and peers in helping students accomplish four main steps: 1) conceptualizing clear goals, 2) identifying a range of pathways for attaining said goals, 3) summoning the mental energy and motivation to continue goal pursuit, and 4) reframing seemingly insurmountable obstacles (i.e., “I will never do well on this test because I get anxious during exams”) as challenges to be overcome (i.e., “My test anxiety makes it more difficult for me to do well on this test; therefore, I need to practice stress-reducing activities that I can use to calm myself down”). The researchers identified two groups of students at the same middle school with similar initial levels of hope, mental-health, life satisfaction, self-worth, and academic achievement. One group then participated in the intervention, while students in the other group continued their routines as usual.

Both groups were tested immediately after, 6 months after, and 18 months after the intervention had finished. The students who had participated in the intervention reported higher levels of hope, life satisfaction, and self-worth. Even further, this positive impact was still found when the students were tested at the 18-month follow-up. This study showed that even a short hope intervention can have positive effects on psychological strengths, and that parents and teachers can help cultivate hope in children by encouraging them to set goals and helping make plans for goal attainment.

Hope and Media

Increasingly, children and teens rely on media and technology to structure their everyday life. We now have a unique opportunity to harness the power of this reliance to our advantage by developing programs and applications such as fun, positive-thinking, goal-setting smartphone apps that focus on increasing hope in developing youth. An impactful app could bolster hope by following a set of guidelines. First, the app could guide students through questions aimed at measuring their levels of hope. For example, the Children’s Hope Scale gives a total hope score, in addition to subscale scores for pathway and agency, components of hope. After a baseline hope score is determined, the app could offer an engaging narrative to teach students about hope theory and its relevance to setting and achieving goals, and then walk the student through creating a list of important life components and assess the student’s level of satisfaction within these areas.

Then come up with the most important steps: creating positive, specific, workable goals and developing multiple pathways to achieve each goal. The app should encourage the student to generate and focus on agency-promoting thoughts about each goal. The student’s baseline hope subscale scores will provide information about which aspects of hope are most important to target during this process. After the goals and pathways have been established, the app should check in with students weekly to remind them of their plans and encourage them to continue towards goal attainment. The app could also help students maintain motivation by offering incentives such as virtual points and trophies as goal progress is made. With apps such as this one, we can bolster hope in children and teens and give students the tools they need to work towards achieving a more positive and fulfilling life.

Amanda Baker is a Ph.D. psychology student at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research examines adolescent brain and behavioral development, with a focus on the emergence of anxiety in adolescence.  https://galvanlab.psych.ucla.edu/lab-members/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amanda-baker-b186b9b0

This blog was originally created to support Baylor University in hosting its Technology Innovation Request for Proposal: Improving Character Strengths of Adolescents through Technology Innovation.

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