Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Feeling Hopeful

Friday 29th April was a momentous day for Britain. Of course there were cynics, but overall the mood was one of joy, pride and hope for the future. Kate Middleton from her relatively “ordinary” background has catalysed a new, fresh approach for the monarchy and given the country hope. As well as all the hopeful headlines across the newspapers in the last few weeks, the Duke of York has been widely quoted as saying that the royal wedding would help to “inject a bit of hope” into the country.

But what is hope – and is it a virtue?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hope as “A feeling of desire for a particular thing to happen” – a positive outcome related to events or circumstances in your life.

Without hope there is no reason to believe that your life can be better in any way. Hopeful people never give up on their quest to improve life’s circumstances. But hope without action isn’t much good. We can’t lie in bed all day and expect our lives to take on some miraculous change! And while hope is part of a positive mindset, which has to be good, hope on its own isn’t necessarily a virtue.

The American Psychologist Martin Seligman has conducted years of research into the areas of hope and optimism and points out that hope on its own it is not enough to remedy depression, failure and ill-health. Its limitations include:

•    preventing us from seeing reality with clarity
•    helping some people evade responsibility for their own failures
•    working better in some communities and cultures than in others

These limitations do not wipe out the advantages of hope, but they help to put it in perspective. Natural pessimists are taught to argue against negative thoughts and maybe it would be useful for naturally hopeful people to give themselves a reality check – and in some ways learn from the more pessimistic or cynical around us.

This would be like having hope with our eyes open, using pessimism’s keen sense of reality when we need it, but without having to stay in its dark, downward spiral.

The Duke of York may have been right about the royal wedding injecting hope into the country; however we still have unemployment, crime rates and a health crisis to deal with. So let’s be hopeful with our eyes keenly open to what needs to be done.

I leave you with a favourite quote of mine from the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption where even prisoners can escape the inhumanity of their existence by maintaining a little hope:

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”

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