The Will and Ways of Hope

An interesting article from Psychology Today notes that a 12 point test of a person’s hope for the future is a better indicator of how well they will preform in law school than the LSAT test. Indeed, hope seems to be the leading predictor of success for a wide range of activities. The article notes that, “Among female cross-country athletes in particular, the state of having hope predicted athletic outcomes beyond training, self-esteem, confidence, and mood.”  - Now that’s pretty incredible.

Logically speaking, this makes a tremendous amount of sense.  Hope is a key factor in motivation.  If a person perceives a task or goal as being hopeless, they are going to be a lot less motivated to try and complete it.  It’s unfortunate that the Obama campaign reduced the word “hope” to a propaganda slogan for state power, but there’s a clear reason why the propagandists focused so intensely on the message of hope for their propaganda campaign.

When people have hope, they are much more likely to be actively engaged in whatever task they are focusing on.  The article notes that, “Hope is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system. Under this conceptualization of hope, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way round. Hope-related cognitions are important. Hope leads to learning goals, which are conducive to growth and improvement. People with learning goals are actively engaged in their learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track. A bulk of research shows that learning goals are positively related to success across a wide swatch of human life—from academic achievement to sports to arts to science to business.”

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t tell us how to manifest hope.  I could use a “hope” pill myself.  Once a person awakens to the truth, hope for the future begins dwindling.  The problems that need to be surmounted for a free and peaceful world to come about are on par with ending death and disease.  It’s interesting that libertarians often refer to the state as a cancer, as it shares many of the same properties.

Terminal cancer can have an interesting psychological side-effect though.  When a person knows they are going to die soon, they can become liberated in a way that most people will never get to experience.  The future loses its power over them.  They begin living in the moment.  I think living in the moment is the only way to retain some semblance of sanity in this insane world.

Of course, living in the moment is easier said than done when death isn’t knocking at your door.  What kind of world will your children grow up in?  How are you going to retire when retirement plans are nationalized or the state prints your retirement savings into worthlessness?  Will your kids end up being conscripted?  Will they end up in jail for drugs?  How will they afford an education?  etc.. etc.. etc..

There are no good answers except to ignore the future problems that you have no control over.  Again, easier said than done, but it seems to be the only method of retaining one’s sanity.  This focus on the “now” is the preferred method of meditation by many mystics.  I think the science of hope demonstrates why these mediation methods have remained in use for thousands of years.

If you feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, it might be worth taking the time to listen to some lecture by Alan Watts or Eckhart Tolle.  Both of these western mystics take the best aspects of Buddhist and Taoist philosophy and package it into terms westerners can comprehend and apply in their daily lives.

Listen to Eckhart speak on living in the moment: