What IS Hope?

We've been talking to some folks about their feelings on hope as part of a new project and it's been so fascinating to learn that for some people hope is almost a negative word. I just didn’t see that coming! This is why it’s so helpful to just go talk to people and ask them about their perspective. Some people saw hope as the last ditch thing when everything else has gone wrong or that hope is created by chance or forces beyond one's control. It made me think we really have some work to do!

In the research on hope, the concept is about 180 degrees apart from that. In fact in the literature, hope is about a person's ability to imagine a specific goal and pathways/steps/actions to get to that goal and then that person's ability to move forward towards that goal, called agency. It's about being able to dream and then take action to achieve your dream. It's about gumption and moxie!

Jerry Groopman, MD, explains the difference between hope and optimism in his book, The Anatomy of Hope:  

“Hope differs from optimism. Hope does not arise from being told to ‘think positively,’ or from hearing an overly rosy forecast. Hope, unlike optimism, is rooted in unalloyed reality. Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see – in the mind’s eye – a path to a better future. Hope acknowledges the significant obstacles and deep pitfalls along the path. True hope has no room for delusion.
Clear-eyed, hope gives the courage to confront our circumstances and the capacity to surmount them. For all my patients, hope, true hope, has proved as important as any medication I might prescribe or any procedure I might perform.
Hope can arrive only when we recognize that there are real options and that you have genuine choices. Hope can flourish only when you believe that what you do can make a difference, that your actions can bring a future different from the present. To have hope then, is to acquire a belief in your ability to have some control over your circumstances. You are no longer entirely at the mercy of forces outside yourself.”

That's why our conference is centered on the Science of HOPE this year. If we want to create enduring health equity, if we want to create a time when everyone has the same opportunity for health as everyone else, then we need to start visualizing some goals that will get us along the way there and find that moxie inside ourselves to move us forward toward them. (or is it gumption? maybe it's both… I just really adore both words, I'm feeling a tad Katherine Hepburn today I think… so you're kinda stuck with them for the moment, I'm afraid… Just hold out for a perfect use of "golly…")


Hope is about personal power, not about waiting around for a fairy godmother to make it all better. That's wishing. Nothing wrong with wishing, but hope puts you at the center of whether you're going to get what you want or not.

Of course you’re waiting for me to work space into the story, I know, and I won’t disappoint! I recently read the story of NASA engineer and physicist Harold White who has been working on a potentially groundbreaking idea that could allow space travel faster than the speed of light. Just like in Star Trek!

And now, to boldly go where no designer has gone before, Mark Rademaker — who is collaborating with White — has created a CGI design concept for the “warp ship.” They’re calling it the IXS Enterprise. Here’s a picture of it! Golly! They hope this visualization work will inspire kids into STEM careers, in fact. Pretty cool!

My own teenager, Emily, is getting amped for engineering and possibly even specifically to build cool aerospace stuff like this! She’s also on a personal mission now to get younger girls amped for STEM as well! As she explained to me the other night when discussing an outreach event at a local elementary school, “when the younger girls see some of this stuff and their eyes are just like saucers full of wonder and excitement… well there’s nothing better than that!” I agree, Em, there’s nothing better than that sense of wonder and adventure and being the one to egg someone on into it! Double Golly! Personally I wish they’d get moving on that transporter device first though… And that is a perfect example of a wish versus a hope! I have no ability to imagine a pathway towards that goal! But it won’t stop me from dreaming…

The key to it all? It’s connecting with each other, joining forces. This is the path to health and health equity. Whether it’s just ensuring you get your 12 hugs a day to thrive physically and emotionally or getting the team together to dream up a starship, we need each other, that’s at the core of it all. We need that connection not only to do things, but even simply to be well. Social isolation is a deadly killer, literally. The trees know this. Even penguins know how important it is to connect. Check out this amazing story of a penguin who swims 5,000 miles every year to visit the man who saved his life. Triple hanky warning!

We need to care for each other and for ourselves differently than we have been, we need to embrace and accept love into our hearts for ourselves and each other. It's time. It's time to get better.

I don’t think of getting better as implying that any of us are somehow damaged or broken. I like to think about being in “permanent beta,” a state in which one is always learning and growing and getting better. And some wounds stay with us our whole lives, don’t they? Revisiting us periodically, giving us the chance to heal them differently, in a new way, sometimes that’s better, sometimes that’s just kind of annoying. Depends on the day, right? And the wound…

Just the other day something happened, a challenging interaction with someone who really wasn’t even seeing me at all, who was just reacting from their own place of who knows what, it just wasn’t a place from which they could even see ME. But it was hurtful. And I thought my hurt was disproportionate to what happened. So I dug into it a bit and discovered I had been pulled back into old stuff from childhood that I thought I'd long vanquished. In fact, it was the very fact they couldn’t “see” me that had triggered that old hurt, not anything that had actually been said.

It never really goes all the way away, right? And time does not heal all wounds, so I got pissed off about it for a moment. I mean, you know, right? Since we know overwhelmingly from the data that most of us have had adversity in our childhood in one form or another, you know without having to know my history, you know that feeling of the past's attempt to drag you back. And I believe most of us have worked hard to move through and past all that. Sometimes it flares up and it's fine and you just breathe through it and it moves along, just like weather. And sometimes, well, sometimes it just pisses you off!

These are good times for certain dance party sing alouds. Right there in the kitchen or the office or singing at the top of your lungs in the car or shower. Those three and a half minutes can work wonders to get me back to right. Here's one of my favorites, down below. Thank goodness I have a 16 year old daughter or I'd never hear new music. Did you know the singer of this song is Lena Dunham's boyfriend? I didn’t. Did you know who Lena Dunham is? I knew that one! She directed the music video, kinda cool if you’re a Lena Dunham fan (which both Em and I are). So, below I’m sharing this great sing out loud, crank it up song to push back an old wound or transform anger into focus on your future, your dreams, your hope. Get silly, get back your saucer eyes full of wide eyed wonder!

Since you read this far, here's a prize!!  25% off conference registration within the next 24 hours!  Use this code fast because it will die in 24 hours! Promo code: DANCEWMEL. Come get your HOPE on with me, I promise we'll dance it out at least once!

Love you!