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Happiness and Hope

How having meaningful goals can give us hope and improve our wellbeing as we move into the 'new normal'

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A Time for New Beginnings

It’s usual for most of us at this time of year – Spring (in the Northern Hemisphere at least) – to start to feel a sense of hope – for new beginnings, new life and renewal/revitalisation. Even more so now that, in the UK at least, there is beginning to be some light at the end of the tunnel in the wider COVID-19 situation. To have hope is to hold positive expectations about our future. As we move forward into this brave new world or ‘new normal’ in 2021, hope will be a vital resource for our wellbeing.

The Nature of Hope

The late, great Rick Snyder, advocated that rather than focusing on hope as an emotion (i.e. merely feeling hopeful), it is more effective to view hope as a positive motivational state with accompanying thinking processes. Snyder (2000) and those who have since followed his work, conceptualise hope as having 3 key elements. A Goal – which gives us focus: an anchor and a clear target to aim for. Pathways – which guide us, allowing us to set and flexibly follow routes towards our goal. And Agency – the passion and perseverance to strive to achieve our goal, despite obstacles and setbacks along the way.

Hope for a Better Future

With many of us beginning to make plans again, thinking about what we may now be able to do over the coming months, setting goals may be top of many of our minds. As humans, we tend to be pretty adept at producing wish lists, but typically not so good at sticking to our goal pursuits – with many of us often giving up at the first hurdle.
I wonder whether part of the problem is not just about issues with our motivation, or not being able to envision clear pathways to our goal – but rather that we have pinned our hopes of future happiness on the wrong goals in the first place.
Often our strivings can be about attaining status, obtaining material possessions or hedonistic pursuits. Such things frequently do not live up to the expectations we set for them, failing to bring the ‘high’ we had hoped for. Even if they do, the rush of joy we experience is short-lived and leaves us wanting (a common effect known as hedonic adaptation).

Wellbeing Goals

I wonder whether, if we were to turn the focus of our goals inwards, towards achieving more contentment and satisfaction – a deeper eudaimonic happiness that comes from a connection to others and the world around us and from a meaningful life in alignment with our identity, values, strengths and purpose – that that might bring more chance of success. And of improving and maintaining our wellbeing over the longer term. Surely seeking ways to be at our best and to thrive not just survive, is a goal worth aiming for………..?

To give us an even stronger likelihood of achieving our goals, the equally late, great ‘Hope Guru’, Shane Lopez, would advise surrounding ourselves with ‘high hopers’. People who are high in hope, can support and encourage us in achieving our goals and can motivate us through the tougher times by helping us reframe setbacks as opportunities to learn (Lopez, 2013/2015). As the world (hopefully!) starts to open up again, what meaningful goals could you set yourself that could give you something to strive towards and look forward to, as well as to help you flourish in the ‘new normal’? And who might be your vital ‘high hoper’ friends who could help you get there?

  • Lopez, S. (2013/2015). Making Hope Happen with Shane Lopez. Podcast available at https://www.livehappy.com/podcast/happiness/making-hope-happen-shane-lopez
  • Snyder, C.R., (2000). Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13, (4), 249-275
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