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The power of hope

The Power of Hope

Al Waller: As our world continues to struggle with some of the most challenging times in modern history, there are actually some encouraging signs that things just may be finally getting get better. Now I know some might think this only wishful thinking—and I get that. However, hope may be just what we need right now. You might be surprised to learn that hope is not only a great strength to have, but it can also have health protective factors attributed to it.

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth SM. I’m your host, Al Waller. With me is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert of nonprofit Transamerica Institute® and she's here to provide greater awareness and insights on how seeing the light at the end of the tunnel may be beneficial for you.

Mihaela, good to have you back!

Mihaela Vincze: It’s great to be here, Al.

Al Waller: Mihaela, could you start us off with what you know about the power of hope?

Mihaela Vincze: When we think about hope, we really think about feelings that encourage us to believe in a positive outcome. So, with that being said, it is to not be confused with optimism, as someone with pessimistic tendencies can still very much be hopeful.

In this segment, I really look forward to discussing why having hope is important, the impacts hope has on our health, and tips to cultivate a hopeful outlook. I also want to touch on how hope differs from unrealistic or toxic positivity.

Al Waller: I'd have to agree keeping hope alive, particularly in times of uncertainty, really is vital. I've also got to say that this is a pretty impressive way to lead off our discussion. Now is there any psychological explanation for why this is the case?

Mihaela Vincze: Hope is important because it increases happiness. It can reduce stress and improves our overall quality of life. Hope also reduces feelings of powerlessness and gives us a sense of control over the future. The American Psychology Association actually illustrates the value of hope even further by reporting that children who grew up in poverty but found success later in life all had one factor in common – and that was their ability to foster hopefulness in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Al Waller: That’s pretty compelling. I mean, when you think about it, it’s amazing that a state of mind can have such a tangible impact. But given that “hope” is a somewhat of an abstract concept, how exactly does it affect one’s outlook?

Mihaela Vincze: Good question. Let’s look at how both hopeful and hopeless mindsets may impact a person’s thinking, feelings and behaviors. If someone is hopeless, they may be thinking thoughts like “I can’t handle this” or “I’m so upset with everything”. They might be feeling worried or frightened, as well as behaving in a way that could be construed as argumentative and self-isolating.

However, on the flip side, someone who is hopeful might think thoughts like “well, this isn’t ideal, but I can get through it.” They might feel determined and motivated or even keep a growth mindset, the belief that circumstances can improve over time. Hopeful people may even behave in a way that allows them to get help and seek support.

Al Waller: No doubt a helpful or a hopeful state of mind sounds like the healthier route to take. And you make a great point about the growth mindset – I’ve actually heard the term used in both personal and professional settings. And it's based on the belief that with hope, things will improve and may help to motivate people.

Now, we’ve been talking a lot about how hope can impact outlook or change one’s mindset, but you’ve also mentioned that it can also improve our physical health. Could you elaborate a little further on that point?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, there are some health benefits linked to hope which is why it’s especially important to foster feelings of it. Hope is very powerful and can lead to better health outcomes for those struggling with chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, according to the Federal University of Health Sciences of Porto Alegre. This might be explained because those who are hopeful seek to engage in health behaviors which may contribute to the treatment of their illness. Hope can even enhance our immune systems and decrease their sensation of pain.

Al Waller: Well, there's a huge selling point. I mean…really – who knew that our mental outlook and physical health were so closely linked? What about the impacts on mental health? Given that hope is a mindset, I'm suspecting there is a link there as well, right?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, you’re correct. Hope is associated with mental health benefits, as it may lead to lower levels of depression and anxiety. It could even protect us from developing these mental health conditions in the first place, since it helps us foster resilience. That’s the ability to adapt to difficult situations.

Al Waller: Well, based on what you've shared, hope is a fairly significant way to boost both your physical and mental health. Hopefully that inspires more people to let hope in.

How about some ways someone might get to a hopeful state when they’re really feeling total hopelessness?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, and that might happen. There might be times you are challenged with believing there is hope. There are also some things we can do to help us feel better so that we’re able to think clearly. This includes practicing mindfulness. When we’re present, we’re taken out of the feelings that are making us feel bad. If you’re new to mindfulness, you can try apps like Headspace and Calm to help you get started.

There are also other things you can do as well, like exercise, or in some cases seeking out counseling. Spending time with those who are hopeful by nature, or at a faith-based organization can also really be beneficial to help us foster hopefulness. Once you’re feeling a little better, it might be more natural to have a hopeful outlook. But with this being said, I do still want to point out that being hopeful is not being unrealistically positive.

Al Waller: Well, that's a great point there. How does hope differ from positivity?

Mihaela Vincze: Hope differs from positivity because it involves looking at the whole picture—not just the good. When you acknowledge it all, including the challenging aspects of a circumstance or a situation, you might find it more meaningful to also look at the positives. Just keep in mind that the worst disaster can turn into a wonderful opportunity once you shift your perspective. As you focus on the good things of the situation, you will feel a sense of control and power which will help you navigate the circumstance in a healthy way.

Al Waller: Well, thank you, Mihaela. I think that's a great note for us to close on. And of course, always great to have you with us.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org.

We hope you’ll join us for future episodes, including the upcoming episode on financial literacy. Also, in case you missed it, check out our recent episodes on the benefits of walking and things you need to know when quitting your job.

We’d love to hear from you if you have comments, feedback, or topics you want to learn more about. Contact us at [email protected].

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be hopeful and thanks for listening.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Clearpath is paid for by Transamerica Institute

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.