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date: 02 June 2020

(p. xvi) Foreword: Hope: Influencing the Largest Terrain of Health and Well-Being for the Greatest Number of People

(p. xvi) Foreword

Hope: Influencing the Largest Terrain of Health and Well-Being for the Greatest Number of People

(p. xvii) I had no early talents for science. I had public speaking anxiety throughout my young adult years. I did not want to be a psychologist. My childhood role models were athletes (Don Mattingly), musicians (Fugazi), and mavericks such as Phillip K. Dick and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Following my family’s financial world tradition, my first adult job was working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. And yet, here I am, with a clinical psychology PhD in 2004, in love with conducting research to understand the link between emotional disorders and well-being, improving the measurement of both, and refining naturalistic interventions where there can be therapy without therapists. And much of my time is spent giving presentations to large groups about science around the world. I offer this brief set of autobiographical details as a typical serpentine road across a 20-year time span. How can we best predict what leads people to uncover what matters most to them? How can we best predict who will overcome adversity to become stronger and clearer in their mission? How can we enable children, teenagers, and adults to stay on task, doing what matters most to them, while encouraging sufficient flexibility to switch courses when beneficial outcomes are best found elsewhere? Hope, as defined and operationalized by Dr. Rick Snyder, surpasses nearly every individual difference to capture psychological variability in healthy life trajectories.

People differ from one another on virtually any psychological dimension that can be imagined. As of this writing, there is a cultural push to increase mindfulness, be gritty, steer toward an ultimate purpose in life, support emotional intelligence trainings in the workplace, and create more opportunities for introverts. Each of these individual differences distinguishes how someone generally feels, thinks, and behaves. With hundreds of individual difference variables, scientists and practitioners can be paralyzed about what to measure and, more importantly, what to invest in as a strategy for improving vitality, social connections, meaningful contributions, and long-term happiness and well-being.

(p. xviii) If we are interested in knowing which military recruits are likely to complete basic training, which college men are less likely to engage in high-risk sex, which adults are going to start and sustain a practice of physical exercise, and what best predicts superior academic, athletic, and work performance, turn to a nearly 30-year old body of research on hope. Hope research was spearheaded by the late Dr. Rick Snyder and expanded in new directions by one of his disciples, the late Dr. Shane Lopez (among dozens of other scientists). I had the fortune of having long-standing friendships with both of them, inspiring me to join the crusade of studying and enhancing hope in the world.

Hope is about energetically pursuing one’s goals and being able to generate multiple strategies to devote effort and make progress. Essentially, Rick Snyder created an elegant formula:

Hope = Agency Thoughts × Pathways Thoughts

Having the motivation to pursue a well-defined goal, known as agency, is a starting point. For that energy to be dedicated to a goal, one must be able to formulate pragmatic routes to reach them and produce alternative courses in case there are obstacles or blockage. When a goal is ascribed particular personal meaning or centrality, such as alignment with core values or a purpose in life, this generates more intense and powerful agency and pathway thoughts.

The reason this formula is elegant is that such a small number of hope-related concepts are needed to capture a complex psychological phenomena that is implicit or explicit in nearly every facet of well-being—whether it is satisfying the basic need for belonging, competence, or autonomy, happiness, meaning and purpose in life, self-acceptance, personal growth, positive relations with others, or mental and physical health. Using experimental, longitudinal, experience-sampling, and intervention approaches, researchers have found hope to be a robust predictor of well-being, in all its forms.

Rick Snyder was, and is, the exemplar of hope. In 2004, my first talk as a psychologist was part of a symposium at the American Psychological Association titled Gratitude and Hope: Emotional Pillars of Positive Psychology. Rick Snyder spoke on hope as social commerce: how agency and pathway thinking pulls us toward other people, as allies to support goals and whose goals we can support. I spoke after him, nervously flipping through Powerpoint slides that were heavily laden with 10 bullet points of information. When I thanked the audience and returned to my seat next to Rick, he put an arm around me and whispered: “Nobody is going to know who is the professor and who is the graduate student; welcome to the club.” In that moment, Rick enveloped me in his hope. He transferred hope to me. Many readers never met Rick. He is an unsung hero. Not just because of the profound research he conducted but because of his humility and generativity. Some of his mentorship was direct, such as Shane Lopez, who became the leading thinker of hope in the 21st century—creating interventions for children and older adults. Much of his mentorship was indirect, including consumers of his seminal articles and books. These consumers followed his blueprint for predicting and instilling healthy life trajectories in counseling (p. xix) clients, patients in hospitals, athletes in training, children in schools, workers in organizations, and human beings navigating the shoals of everyday life.

Hope should be receiving significantly more attention from scientists, practitioners, and policymakers. Let me offer a few explanations why this is not the case. The word hope might have been poorly chosen. Open the Oxford English Dictionary and hope is a synonym for optimism. But Rick Snyder’s theory of hope is far more comprehensive than the layperson’s usage. Optimism is about outcome expectancies. Someone believes that desirable goal-related outcomes are highly probable. An optimistic person believes positive events that occur can be attributed to internal, stable, and global forces. Choose either of these definitions of optimism. Neither definition captures the psychological flexibility of the highly hopeful person who regardless of his or her expectations is ready and willing to find a way to work around internal and external obstructions.

Another reason that hope is not being given sufficient attention is an unfortunate bias toward the new. Hope continues to outperform against cognitive, physical, emotional, and environmental factors in predicting success and fulfillment. But researchers have fallen in love with newer terms coined by psychologists. Take grit, which is operationalized as the passion and perseverance for long-term goals. If this appears to be a piece of the hope construct, that’s because it is. Recent research has found that only the perseverance dimension of grit predicts performance and well-being, whereas the more unique dimension of long-term consistency of interests has nearly zero predictive power. What is effective (agency and pathways) is not new, and what is new (consistency of interests) is not effective. Take distress tolerance, which is operationalized as the ability to endure uncomfortable thoughts and feelings in order for problem-solving skills and goal-related pursuits to take place. If this appears to be a piece of the hope construct, that’s because it is. To me, these new strands of research only provide further evidence for the longevity of hope theory. I find it unfortunate that this new work is artificially divorcing itself from 30 years of research. It is hard enough to keep abreast of recent scientific findings. When different terms are used for the same phenomena, the burden is placed on those of us who can benefit from this science.

With this new volume of 27 chapters, the theory, measurement, and cultivation of hope should return to a deserved place of prominence. We should never abandon rich psychological constructs that can predict a large amount of variance in a wide array of domains, settings, and populations. It is my hope that the current and next generation of thinkers pay careful attention to a body of evidence that is too compelling to ignore. Rick Snyder and Shane Lopez laid the groundwork for great potential discoveries. Let us continue to build on the strongest, hopeful shoulders of the past. (p. xx)

ForewordHope: Influencing the Largest Terrain of Health and Well-Being for the Greatest Number of People