“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
– Emily Dickinson
When we hear of someone feeling hopeful, often regardless of toward what end, it is easy to relate. Hope is a human universal- an experience littered throughout our oldest stories and crossing cultural and generational boundaries. Although it is easy to assume we understand what someone might be experiencing when they express feeling hopeful, the subject has shown itself to be far more nuanced than many of us imagine. Someone’s culture, upbringing, language, and historical context impart different valences of meaning on this fundamental human experience.
Approached poetically, the romance of Hope sweeps us away to times of hardship, desperation, and big dreams. Considered mundanely, Hope showcases small, daily moments of joyful anticipation or orientation away from negative possibilities. And finally, when explored scientifically, Hope becomes a dynamic and multifaceted answer to navigating life’s challenges and crafting our futures.
In surveying the wide manner in which Hope has been examined and discussed in the realm of scientific study, a categorical piece by professor Darren Webb of the University of Sheffield does an excellent job of characterizing Hope into five distinct facets.
Ultimately, we’ve chosen to focus the content on this site on what he calls “Resolute Hope,” a type of Hope originally defined by the work of Dr. Rick Snyder, who focused his career on its study:
“…the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways.”
Although all other pages regarding Hope on this website focus on Resolute Hope, the other manifestations of this experientially rich human phenomenon are also useful to become acquainted with. The following table breaks down Darren Webb’s five Pedagogies of Hope with definitions and examples.
|Type of Hope||Definition||Example|
|Patient Hope||“An openness of spirit with respect to the future.” Patient Hope is a belief, it is Hope that sees being on the journey of life itself to have purpose and meaning, which creates a sense of trust, safety, and calm. “Active Waiting.”
“Individuals are confronted with a choice—either one welcomes or rejects the gift of hope. To welcome and embrace this gift is to orient oneself toward the world in a spirit of humble, trusting patience, and to orient oneself to others in a spirit of loyalty, fidelity and love.“
|Being hopeful in a religious sense, such as the Christian faith in the afterlife giving this life purpose or the Hindu belief in reincarnation.|
|Critical Hope||Also includes an openness to the future, but criticizes the present as lacking something important. Critical Hope is a longing for an unknown and better future. May be associated with protest, but does not have a specific goal to pursue.||Hoping for suffering to end.|
|Sound Hope||Sound Hope is in regards to a specific, positive future goal that the Hoper knows can occur. The belief that it is possible to attain such goals supported by carefully studied evidence. “A desire and an evidence-based probability estimate.” This can include False Hopes, which are based on poor probability estimates.||Hoping for good weather on Sunday.|
|Resolute Hope||“Seeing oneself as capable of creating realistic pathways to a goal and believing oneself to be capable of achieving the goals by using those pathways.”||Hoping you will lose weight by believing it is possible and having multiple strategies to achieve this.|
|Transformative Hope||Hoping against evidence in a very broad sense, including all of humanity and progress as a species. Transformative Hope is profound confidence in the power of the collective and inspires goal-directed action. Transformative Hope is essentially Resolute Hope on a scale beyond the individual to society.||Political or Environmental Activism|
|*Adapted from Webb, D. Pedagogies of Hope. Stud Philos Educ 32, 397–414 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11217-012-9336-1|
We have chosen to focus on Resolute Hope in the following pages because it has the most practical application for individuals. This does not mean that other types of Hope are not useful or meaningful, rather that as a tool, Resolute Hope (through its employment of agency) is a pragmatic approach to cultivating meaning in life that has measurable benefits. We go on to define Resolute Hope with extensive detail on the Hope Fundamentals page.
It is still enriching to touch on the more colloquial uses of Hope to better understand the idea as a whole. The following topics encompass some ideas that aren’t touched on directly in Webb’s Pedagogies, such as Hope as a Wish and Religious Hope.
Hope as a Wish
It is very common for people to use the term Hope when referring to wishes, and it often functions this way. These wishes pop up in relation to circumstances beyond our control and they range in size and depth along the spectrum of what is at stake. Darren Webb would consider Hopeful Wishes to fall into the categories of Critical or Sound Hope. A Critically Hopeful Wish would be based on the premise that the present is lacking something and that there could be better circumstances in the future, a wish for something not to be. A Soundly Hopeful Wish would be based on the belief that something that is specifically desired is also possible- a wish for something specific that the wisher believes is a genuine possibility.
A .“Hopeful Wish” could be hoping for good weather next weekend when you’ve made plans to go kayaking. There is not a huge cost to this not working out, as poor weather would be merely an inconvenience that leads to a change in plans. While you do not have control over the weather, your agency in this situation lies in making alternative plans for recreation or preparing for going kayaking in less than ideal conditions. A small Hopeful Wish has small stakes.
A bigger Hopeful Wish would be regarding a bigger change that still has small stakes. For example, hoping to win the lottery fit into this category. It would potentially result in a big change in your life, but if it doesn’t occur there are no direct adverse effects. This is closer to fantasy.
Next up on the ladder of Hopeful Wishes would be a big wish with high stakes. For example, hoping you don’t lose your job in a recession or hoping your house does not get destroyed by a wildfire. You do not have control over the outcome of these situations, but holding onto the idea of a positive outcome is essential to your emotional wellbeing because the stakes seem so high.
The largest type of Hopeful Wish occurs when the stakes are so high that your wish goes beyond desire for something and crosses over into the realm of survival. This applies in situations like Holocaust survivors faced in the concentration camps, or Sudanese refugees fleeing their country for freedom, or facing a terminal cancer diagnosis.
Hopeful Wishes become this quirky inclination that enable humans to survive or persist by tapping into our Optimism Bias, our ability to dream and believe that good is possible. Hopeful Wishes protect us from despair in the face of adversity, enable us to endure an undesirable present moment, and empower us to see possibilities.
|Hopeful Wish||Wish Size||Stakes||Pay Off|
|I hope the provided snack in class will be something I like||Small||Low||Maintains interest, creates some excitement. Combats negative feelings that could be associated with what is hoped against (ie. that a snack I dislike will be provided and I’ll be disappointed)|
|I hope to win the lottery||Big||Low||Dreaming, staying open to possibility, pacifying pay-offs associated with fantasy|
|I hope she will say “yes” when I propose.||Big||High||Enables one to endure adversity, orients us away from fear or despair.|
|I hope I survive being stranded in the wilderness.||Deep||Very High||Survival, the will to endure, protects one from despair. Enables one to endure an uncomfortable present.|
Hope in religion differs from the pragmatic Hope we’ve been focusing on in that religious Hope is often seen as a virtue or moral behavior by its practitioners. Having Hope is considered a spiritual way of being, and its presence is often seen as based in religious belief by religious adherents.
In Christianity, it is one of three theological virtues: Hope, Faith, and Love. It differs from Faith because to Hope is to trust in a positive outcome while to have Faith is to commit to believe in something despite the evidence. Robert Pasnau, a philosophy professor, argues that Hope enables Faith, as it reduces the fear of believing the wrong thing by positively orienting us towards what we are choosing to have Faith in.
Religious Hope is still Hope for a positive future outcome, as is pragmatic Hope. However, it is much more akin to Darren Webb’s “Patient Hope,” and involves trusting that what one is experiencing is meaningful. It often does not inspire actionable steps or define a goal, rather it utilizes Faith itself as an action.
Religious Hope can be divided into two types: Transcendent and Immanent. Transcendent Hope applies to Hope for life after death, while Immanent Hope applies to Hope for good things in this life. Transcendent Hope is evidenced in the Christian belief in heaven or the Hindu belief in reincarnation. Immanent Hope would be constituted by prayers or rituals directed at positive outcomes while alive.
One study demonstrated that religion alone does not determine if a person is more Hopeful. Rather factors like one’s level of spiritual commitment or ability to create meaning are bigger determinants in degree of Hopefulness (Ciarrocchi 2008). Most research on Hope has not studied it with a focus on religious contextualization, so many questions regarding the nature of Hope as it is influenced by and influences religiosity are yet left unanswered. Studies that do seek to understand Hope in relation to religion combat a slew of complex variables because measuring degree of religiosity, and other factors that play into a religious person’s life outside of their beliefs, can impact outcomes. For example, some researches speculate a chicken and egg phenomenon regarding personality traits of religious adherents: are religious people more likely to have certain personality traits, or are certain personalities more likely to be religious?
Some studies claim that religiosity is not correlated with a greater degree of hopefulness, rather factors like one’s level of spiritual commitment or ability to create meaning are bigger determinants in degree of Hopefulness (Ciarrocchi 2008). Others still cite that greater Hope is present in more religious people due to “a personal conviction of an alliance between someone’s effort to pursue their goal and God’s will” (Krause et al 2018)(Nell & Werner 2014).
While quantitative results remain fuzzy, it may be easier for us to speak more confidently about qualitative differences between religious and secular Hope. Religious Hope likely varies across cultures (although this hasn’t been deeply examined as of yet) due to different philosophies regarding the nature of God and reality. Jewish Hope may be based on the belief in human freedom1 , while some Christian Hopes may thrive off faith in God’s love and intended purpose for the individual2. Buddhist Hope may find roots in its belief in the inevitability of suffering, a sense that one will endure hardship and evolve through it.
The fact remains that most questions regarding the diverse intersections of Hope and religion remain largely unexplored:
- Are religious people more Hopeful than non-religious?
- Does the amount of Hope vary with degree of religiosity?
- Is religious Hope different in function or feeling than Hope that is not based in religious faith?
- How common is it to be Hopeful amongst the religious population?
- How much does Hope vary in amount and style across cultures?
There is a great deal left to be uncovered.
Hope in the Collective
“My vision of hope is a sense of radical uncertainty, with the possibility of intervention, to shape the future.” – Rebecca Solnit
In the Hope section of the website as a whole, we focus on Hope as an individual matter- a facet of the concept heavily influenced by the Western values showcased in the American Dream. Despite being approached individualistically, Hope is as much a collective phenomenon as it is a personal one. Magnified by the multitudes, Hope has affected tremendously progressive feats in history.
Hopes on the individual level for our own wellbeing bleed over to unite a collective identity for populations who relate over the same challenges. As larger groups forge alliances based on shared Hopes, momentum and power converge to create societal transformation. This qualifies as Webb’s “Transformative Hope.”
Collective Hopes for liberty, security, equality, salvation, fulfillment, and abundance have driven our political systems and revolutions for ages. Without Hope for the possibility of a better future, would we have experienced the changes that define our lives today? Consider the following movements; all driven by the desire for a better life for those they impact.
- Future Tense – How The Jews Invented Hope
- Could a revived ‘theology of hope’ restore faith in hopeless times?
- Neal Krause, Kenneth I Pargament, Gail Ironson, In the Shadow of Death: Religious Hope as a Moderator of the Effects of Age on Death Anxiety, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 73, Issue 4, May 2018, Pages 696–703, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbw039
- Nell, Werner & Rothmann, Sebastiaan. (2018). Hope, religiosity, and subjective well-being. Journal of Psychology in Africa. 28. 10.1080/14330237.2018.1505239.