Notes on Hope

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.”

Reinhold Niebuhr

September 26, 2015 is the day the NWPF’s Annual HOPE Conference will be held. I, like many of you have already registered to attend. Since signing up I have found myself reflecting and initiating conversations on what hope means to us, PWPs, and to our care partners.

HOPE: Northwest Parkinson's Foundation

  • To hope, according to Webster and Oxford dictionaries, “it is to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true”; “it is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen”
  • So simply and directly defined, hope appears uncomplicated, straightforward. It is not. For hope is not just a word or concept but a lived experience. As such it is multifaceted, nuanced, complex. It varies within and across individuals.
  • Traditionally, over thousands of years, hope has been the subject matter of religion and spirituality; the preoccupation of philosophers, theologians, clerics and people of faith. Hope is a virtue, which, along with faith and love, stands as the pillars of our moral, ethical and spiritual development. In hope we overcome adversity. In hope we encounter sustenance, redemption, salvation and even healing. In its absence, we realize that life is bleak and gripped by despair.
  • In the past few decades, particularly since the advent of positive psychology, research psychologists like Martin Seligman, Barbara Fredrickson, C.R. Snyder, Christopher Peterson, Robert Emmons,  among many others, have examined virtues from a secular, scientific, empirical point of view. Hope and other virtues are considered   “character strengths” or “positive emotions.” Hope is akin to “optimism” –a learnable and measurable skill. Despair is translated as hopelessness. Hope, or optimism, is a “style of thinking” that is central to successful goal attainment.
  • There is now a robust psychological literature indicating that hope, or optimism, is associated with increments in people’s health, recovery from surgeries and illnesses, heightened subjective wellbeing and even longevity.
  • People of faith believe that a hopeful stance is different than an optimistic one. The optimists speak with certainty and conviction that things will get better and that they will be instrumental in successfully managing adversity and emerging with a favorable outcome. The stance of the hopeful, is more humble, more quiet, more imploratory. They believe that “this too shall pass” but they are not entirely  free of doubts —hence they hope and, sometimes, hope against hope.  Further the hopeful appears to ask for a favorable outcome while the self-assured optimist appears to demand it.
  • There are other views on hope, which issue not from an individual’s scholarship or contemplation but from surviving horrific trauma and despair. Such is the work of holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl. He asserted that to sustain hope, when one is powerless and facing annihilation, one needs to accept what cannot be changed, affirm the value of life, believe that one’s struggles against terror is not about one self alone but is inclusive of others, have courage, and hold on to the belief that there is a god or a force or a power that is higher or greater than our isolated selves.
  • Also notable, and useful, is the work of-psychiatrist, scholar of adult development George Vaillant. He advances a scientific defense of faith and spirituality. He views hope, along with love, joy, forgiveness, compassion, faith, awe and gratitude as biologically and culturally grounded positive emotions. Thousands of years of biological, cultural and individual evolution have resulted in the development of brain structures and neural pathways, wherein emotions, positive and negative, are wired in and from where they can be rewired. It is in the daily cultivation of these positive states, these virtues, which are available to all, that one achieves spirituality.

In the end, we all vary on how and what we hope and where we place our hopes. Some chose science, some a divinity, some a form of higher power. Personally, concerning my life with Parkinson’s, I harbor two hopes, one distal and one proximal. I do hold the hope that medical science ”someday” in the future will deliver more effective treatments and a cure. It will probably be, not in my lifetime, but that of my adult children. In the meantime, as PD traces its inexorable trajectory, and incapacitates my body more and more, I hope I will have the grace and the courage to adapt and overcome the limitations imposed by the disease.

May hope spring eternal!

NWPF-plus-PRO-Logos_292x147This post was originally published by its proprietor, the Northwest Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. It is reproduced here with their permission.

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