A Place Called Hope

bigstockphoto_First_Light_Ray_Of_Hope__143636We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope – Martin Luther King

As renowned pessimists, lawyers struggle to be hopeful.  One veteran litigator told me yesterday his definition of hope: getting up the next morning and, “hopefully,” having the energy to survive the day.  But this type of hope is more about avoidance; the draining sense of dread people feel when they are working at maximum capacity and just barely staying on top of all of it.  As lawyers, we need a more expansive sense of hope; of what hope is and how it can positively affect our lives as lawyers.

Hope, in its best sense, is a positive motivator in our lives.  Psychologist, C.S. Snyder, in his 1990’s book “The Psychology of Hope:  You Can Get There from Here,’ defined hope as a “motivational construct that let one believe in positive outcomes, conceive goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them”.  He actually invented a measuring tool and test called the “Hope Scale.”  He discovered that “low hope” people have ambiguous goals and work towards them one at a time while “high hope” people often worked on five or six clear goals simultaneously.  Hopeful people had definite routes to their goals and alternate pathways in case of obstacles.  Low scorers did not.

More recently, psychologist Anthony Scioli expanded Snyder’s definition of hope and created his own “Hope Index.”  According to Scioli, hope has a powerful spiritual (and transpersonal) dimension.  From this perspective, hope includes patience, gratitude, charity, and faith.  In a previous article from Martin Seligman, Ph.D. posted on the Lawyers with Depression website, the issue of lawyer optimism/pessimism was discussed.  Scioli makes an interesting distinction between hope and optimism.  In an article from the magazine Spirituality & Health, he put it this way:

“Faith is the building block of hope.  Above all, it is based on relationships, on a collaborative connection with people as well as their higher power, as distinct form optimism, which is connected to self-confidence.  True hope also differs from denial, which is really false hope, an avoidance of reality.”

Scioli’s newest book, “Hope in the Age of Anxiety,” coming out in September of 2009, takes square aim at how hope helps us deal with anxiety on both a psychological and physiological level:

“Hope represents an adaptive ‘middle ground’ between the over-activated ‘stress response’ [also implicated in depression] and the disengaged ‘giving-up complex’.  At a physiological level, hopefulness can help to impart a balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic activity while assuring appropriate levels of neurotransmitters, hormones, lymphocytes, and other critical health-related substances.  Equally important, a hopeful attitude may permit an individual to sustain this healthy internal environment in the presence of enormous adversity.”

While Scioli’s research and writing is focused on the broader themes and benefits of hope, other psychologists have addressed how “hope therapy” can help those who suffer with depression.  In an article from MSN, psychologist, Jenniefer Cheavens said:

“We’re finding that hope is consistently associated with fewer symptoms of depression.  And the good news is that hope is something that can be taught, and can be developed in many of the people who need it.”  Hope has two components according to Cheaven – a map or pathway to get what you want, and the motivation and strength to follow that path.

In another article  fromWebMD, Cheaver notes how hope therapy is different from other more traditional forms of therapy: “. . . hope therapy seeks to build on strengths people have, or teach them how to develop those strengths.  We focus not on what is wrong, but on ways to help people live up to their potential.”  According to other researchers associated with the hope studies, people with high hope possess these “components of hope”: 

  • Goals:  They have long-and short-term meaningful goals.
  • Ways to reach those goals:  A plan or pathway to get there and the ability to seek alternative routes, if needed.
  • Positive self-talk, similar to the little red engine from the children’s book, telling themselves things like “I think I can.”

I have often thought of hope as something that just happens.  But this research suggests otherwise.  As lawyers who deal with adversity, stress and, all too often suffer from depression, it’s wise to ponder the role that hope plays in our days.  Consider where you fall on the “hope index.”  Learn more about how you can develop the skills of being a hopeful person.  For further reading, check out this great article by lawyer, Dave Shearon called, “Hope about Lawyer Happiness” and another article by Leland Beaumont called, “Hope: This Can All Turn Out for the Best.”

My next blog will look at the spiritual dimension of hope.

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