Emotional Health

Hope for A New Year

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
― Langston Hughes


Hope was the last trait left in Pandora’s Box after she unwittingly opened it and unleashed myriad evils into the world. The myth has usually been interpreted to mean that hope was the tool left to us so that we might fight for what is good in life. It was a small gesture, but a crucial one.

Sometimes hope is just a faint stirring—Emily Dickinson’s “thing with feathers.” At other times, it is a powerful force that allows people to endure unimaginable horrors. Psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl wrote that his burning wish to see his family again kept him alive in Auschwitz as others around him perished (Man’s Search for Meaning, 1946).

As we begin another year, many look back on the tumult of 2017 with dismay. Some of the progress we had been making, especially in the area of race relations and climate control, seems to be coming undone. Many people feel powerless to stop this regression.

And yet many others are energized. Women, who began last year with their historic march the day after the inauguration, have started speaking up against sexual abuse in unprecedented ways, and more female candidates than ever are deciding to run for office. And Anita Hill, whom male senators patronized and disregarded during the Clarence Thomas hearings, has just been named to lead a commission to investigate sexual harassment in Hollywood.

There’s something happening here, as the old song says. Perhaps having allowed men who are openly abusive to women to reach the upper echelons of power, including the White House, things finally went too far. Or perhaps we are witnessing a classic Hegelian dynamic, in which a trend or idea (thesis) is met with its opposite (antithesis), resulting finally in synthesis of the two.

What allows people to remain hopeful in the face of adversity? While optimism vs. pessimism is considered a stable, and even inheritable, trait, psychologists now know our level of hopefulness can be changed, as Martin Seligman described in his book, Learned Optimism (2001). Seligman started out studying optimism’s opposite, and his research showing how “learned helplessness” can induce depression in lab animals is classic. Later in his career, he turned to investigating happiness instead, and he founded a new field called “Positive Psychology.”

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  • Jen McCandless January 4, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Thank You.You’ve no idea how much hope you’ve stirred in me with this.