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.
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.