The Science of Hope

Recently, I was informed I need to meditate, to achieve a sense of calm I am not maintaining on my own. Directed to the podcast Ten Percent Happier, I scrolled through the archives and found topics that appealed to me. One was “The Science of Hope” with Dr. Jacqueline Mattis. For me, hope has that woo woo feeling behind it, as if we’re all supposed to walk dreamily into the future, ignoring all the present adversities (like a pandemic, an insurrection on the country’s capitol, inflation, and possible WWIII).

Yet Dr. Mattis, a psychologist and professor, shares data-driven information about hope that can appeal to anyone, including the extremely poor and vulnerable populations facing adversity, and those who have privilege. Here are some notes I wrote while listening:

  • Hope is optimism with a plan.
  • Set a goal and figure out how to achieve it.
  • Hope is a bridge to get you through, not mindless wishful thinking.
  • Through bad things, along the way we are helped by others: teachers, friends, family, mentors, even strangers.
  • It’s a fantasy that we can control the world we live in.
  • Having a support system that challenges naysayers is good and a form of hope.
Photo by Yelena Odintsova on
  • In what ways is uncertainty good? How does it serve you? Pivot to a story you tell yourself that includes hope. Look at the data (stories) of your overall life, not just certain moments. Is the actual story that you can do [challenging thing] because you have many examples in your life as evidence?
  • People say, “Don’t quit your day job,” which makes you feel small in your creative endeavors. What if you shift your hope to doing that endeavor for yourself, or a small group of people, rather than a big audience? This is a form of hope.
  • Seek community! Some communities I have joined are my blog, volunteering at hospice, an online horror movie club, meeting and befriending two retired neighbors, my book club, a sign language group, and volunteering at the library.
  • Hope is not all fantasy and deluded people. It’s data driven. Optimists look at the same data as pessimists, but the extract different meaning depending on what they’re looking for. In one study, people were shown a picture of a cancerous lesion on the skin. Optimists tended to look at the skin around the cancer; pessimists focused on the cancer.
  • How has the story of hopelessness you’ve told yourself served you? If your story draws people to you to help you, it may serve you. But can you seek help without ditching hope?

Published by Grab the Lapels

I'm a graduate of the MFA fiction writing program at the University of Notre Dame, which inspired me to follow along with trends in teaching, publishing, and reviewing. I also have an MA and BS from Central Michigan University. I used to teach composition, creative writing, and literature in higher education, then did a brief stint at a civic theater, followed by two years at a references desk at a public library. I'm now working toward my ASL Interpreter license.

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