The Power of Hope: Hope Theory

The Power of Hope: Hope Theory

The Power of Hope: Hope Theory for Schools  

In this article, I offer an overview of hope, as it is a vital subject in positive education, and has been evidenced as contributing significantly to positive levels of well-being in children and adolescents. An overview of hope theory is then discussed which underpins hope interventions in the positive education context.

Overview of Hope – a vital subject in Positive Education

Hope is a significant subject in both positive psychology and positive education reflecting an individual’s general well-being (Snyder et al., 2005).

Lack of hope in particular, contributes significantly to low levels of mental well-being (Snyder, 2002). High hope on the other hand, has consistently been shown to be related to positive outcomes in mental well-being, and other areas such as academics, physical health, psychological adjustment and more (Snyder, 2002).

Many studies have found that hope offers immense mental well-being benefits for children and adolescents . Hope:

  • Strengthens the intrinsic motivation of adolescents,
  • Helps them solve problems positively,
  • Conceptualise their goals well and based on their own values,
  • Set high learning and performance goals and more (Rand & Cheavens, 2012; Lopez, 2013; Snyder, 2002; Gallagher, Marques, & Lopez, 2017; Marques et al., 2015).

Many studies have found that hope offers immense mental well-being benefits for children and adolescents

Hope is linked to many positive characteristics and behaviours

Hope also is linked to many other positive characteristics and behaviours such as optimism and resilience (Pedrotti, 2018). With its association to many positive outcomes, hope has the potential to not only increase well-being, but to buffer the negative effects of stress as well (Edwards, 2013). Perhaps due to hope motivating individuals to stay positive in life regardless of limitations (Rideout & Montemuro, 1986).

Similarly, hope correlates considerably and negatively with anxiety, working as a protective factor against anxiety development (Michael, 2000).

Interestingly, hopeful thinking in children is also positively associated with their life satisfaction (Roesch & Vaughn, 2006; Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, and Lopez, 2009). Valle, Huebner, and Suldo (2006) investigated the link between life satisfaction and hope in high school students over 1 year, students with high hope in the beginning reported higher life satisfaction a year later.

Not surprisingly then, programs and interventions that teach students about hope strengthen their levels of hope, and in turn protect them against life events that have negative effects (Edwards & McClintock, 2013).

Schools are ideal places to identify and provide support as most children and adolescents go to school and early school intervention and prevention is more cost effective than clinical treatment, contributing to the promotion and maintenance of their well-being (Chin et al., 2016).

Overview of Hope Theory

In 1991, a new strengths based concept and cognitive, motivational model was developed by Rick Snyder and his colleagues called hope theory (Snyder et al., 2003). This model of hope which emphasizes the two key elements of hope: pathways and agency thinking and laid the foundations for decades of scientific study of hope (Gallagher and Lopez, 2017).

Hope theory emphasizes that pursuing goals is an organisational principle of human behaviour, whereby positive expectations in their pursuit are the essence of hope. A key premise of hope is that not only does it help one identify goals, but it is a strong source of positive outcomes and resiliency (Gallagher and Lopez, 2017).

How is hope defined in hope theory?

Hope is a positive motivational state and developing process involving a person’s:

  1. Thinking – about goals
  2. Motivation – to move toward these goals, and
  3. Their perceived ways of achieving them (Snyder et al., 2005).

To define a goal in hope theory, it can be anything someone desires to do, have, make, be or experience. Their significance can vary from being a lifetime goal or a short, simple goal and they can also differ in perceived probability of success (Snyder et al., 2003).

According to hope theory, hope is comprised of three major components, which shows us an individual’s perceptions about their ability to do three things.

  1. Firstly, to conceptualise their goal
  2. Secondly, to develop the pathways (strategies or planning) needed to reach them (described as way power by Snyder) and
  3. Lastly, to commence and maintain the motivation and goal directed determination and focus, to use those strategies (agency thinking, also described as willpower by Snyder) (Snyder et al., 2003, Gallagher and Lopez, 2017).

The pathway and agency aspects are mutual and positively related but not enough on their own, to sustain moving towards the goal achievement (Snyder et al., 2003). For example, the pathway thinking without the linked agency or motivational thinking renders the pathway futile.

Hope theory explains that goals are the objectives of “mental action sequences” and that in order to lead to hope, goals must be important to an individual (Snyder et al.,1991).

When goals are important and obstacles or challenges arise, individuals exhibiting high hope are more likely to:

  • think about and develop a different pathway
  • find routes around obstacles,
  • keep going,
  • take the next step,
  • stay motivated and
  • sustain their agency thinking than an individual with low hope (Snyder et al., 1991; Snyder et al., 1996, Snyder 1994).

Hence, not surprisingly, agency thinking is reflected in a high-hope individuals positive self-talk (e.g., “I can do this” or “I will not give up” (Snyder, LaPointe, Crowson Jr., & Early, 1998).

It’s useful to note that before the emergence of positive psychology, interventions were focused on correcting problems, such as depression and anxiety, rather than promoting strengths. In contrast, hope interventions help to build strengths by generating pathways and agency towards achieving goals.

Written by Aisha Meguid
Well-Being Teacher, Educator, Consultant & Coach

This article is an excerpt from an essay written during my Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology (Melbourne University)

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