The Science and Practice of Hope

Merriam Webster defines hope in verb form as, “To cherish a desire with anticipation, to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment, or to expect with confidence.” As a noun, hope is described as, “someone or something on which hopes are centered and, expectation of fulfillment and success.” Formal hope-based programs have been used to improve pain management, interpersonal relationships, and resilience.  In cancer survivors who nurture hope in response to their diagnosis, research demonstrates increases in quality of life, spiritual well-being, and social support. Clearly, hope has an impact on how we feel, live, and thrive. 

At Arizona State University, researchers studied the extent to which college students are hopeful and the impact on facets of health and well-being. The findings suggest that hopeful students had better social and emotional skills, performed better academically, and were overall more resilient. In a study that involved almost 13,000 senior citizens with an average age of 66, researchers found that higher levels of hope were associated with aspects of physical health resulting from health behavior management. These outcomes included reduction in falls, less sleep difficulty, lower incidence of cancer and lifestyle-related conditions. Participants in this study in the highest category of hope had a 16% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 13% higher likelihood of performing physical activity as a regular health behavior. Further scientific exploration provides that hope is correlated with better quality of life and purpose, emotional resilience, and social well-being.  Neuroscience research demonstrates that hope causes the brain to release neurochemicals called endorphins and enkephalins, and their effects are similar to that of morphine. Watching someone else receive what they hope for also elevates the release of these feel good neurochemicals.

As we train our body through movement and fitness, we can train our outlook to reflect a more helpful, hopeful disposition, to our benefit and the benefit of those around us. Each day provides an opportunity to notice, grow, love, and feel joy—as we pause and notice the blessings around us and in us, may it inform our journey towards a hope filled life.

Cultivating hope improves health and well-being