Hope is beginning to reveal its value in scientific studies
From the tenuous bonds that connect us with one another to the ever-present vulnerability we share as humans in a chaotic world, our lives are forever saturated in the possibility of catastrophe.
Bad things — often really tragic things like accidents, illness, and untimely death — happen to people every single day. We know this, yet we are tasked with finding ways of moving forward in a world where nothing is guaranteed.
But hope is also beginning to reveal its value in scientific studies. Among young adults with chronic illnesses, greater degrees of hope are associated with improved coping, well-being, and engagement in healthy behaviors.
It also protects against depression and suicide. Among teens, hope is linked with health, quality of life, self-esteem, and a sense of purpose. It is an essential factor for developing both maturity and resilience.
Fortunately, such benefits also extend into later life, as the opportunities for calamity start to increase. Our bodies fail us. We may experience life’s setbacks like losing jobs, relationships, or family members.
If our early challenges are so often related to growing and developing into healthy adults, later life can be thought of as a period of consolidation and acceptance of one’s self, even as the physical body declines and circumstances shift for the worse.
Hope can be a particularly powerful protector against the dread of a chronic or life-threatening illness. It needn’t center on a cure to be useful, though those aspirations are enticing. Rather, a person’s hope — even when facing an illness that will likely end their life — can be aimed at finding joy or comfort.
Lastly, hope can be an opportunity for us to process events that seem insurmountable. A massive setback in life, a crushing accident, a vigil held during a relative’s last days in the intensive care unit, or even our own final months living with a fatal disease can be times when hope for comfort or reprieve serves as a pathway from one stage to the next.