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Dr. Dan Tomasulo

Introduction to Learned Hopefulness

What if I told you there was an easier way to get more of what you want in your life—and less of what you don’t? Would you be interested?  What if all the motivational power that comes from having real hope was immediately available?  Hope gives us the needed energy to change for the better. A new science revealing how to access this power has emerged.

Welcome to Learned Hopefulness, a blog devoted to the science of hope.  Perhaps our most treasured emotional asset, hope has been an enigma that has stirred our deepest human interest since ancient times. The Greeks knew of its power.  It is featured in one of their most potent myths. When Pandora opened the jar and released all the difficulties into the world, she closed it before hope escaped.  Hope lived amongst all the disappointments and pain, so it knew them well—and was preserved to be used to deal with them.

In recent years science has learned how to cultivate this precious capacity, and there are immediate ways to begin using these insights.  This blog is about applying these findings to your work and personal life. Of all the positive emotions, hope is the only one the requires uncertainty or negativity to be activated—making it unique. There is no need for hope if you are positively sure of the outcome. Disappointment, frustration, and the unknown are hope’s necessary ingredients.  None of the other positive emotions work this way.  Joy, serenity, interest, awe, amusement, gratitude, and the like do not need negativity or uncertainty as kick-starters. Hope springs from uncertainty or negativity the same way the lotus comes from the mud.  We need the motivation and emotional nutrients, such as perseverance from the difficulties in our life to grow.

Hope is a cousin to optimism, yet it is different in what it needs to make it work. Optimism is the more generalized belief the future will have positive outcomes.  Hope comes from the belief you can do something to control the future. This is important because it is about what you believe you can do.  The degree to which we expect we can influence the future determines our hope.  We are hopeful when we believe we can—hopeless when we think we can’t. Our findings now support what Henry Ford has said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

But what causes hope to happen?  Is there something we can do to cultivate it?  The science of psychology has focused on alleviating suffering with an emphasis on reducing or eliminating negative emotions.  It is only in the past twenty or so years that science has turned its attention to positive emotions such as hope.  We are finding that it is a teachable resource for transformation.  We’ve learned from those with high-hope that the power comes from their beliefs.

Try this experiment. Imagine you have a lemon in front of you that is ripe, and you can smell it in the air. Then imagine you cut this lemon with a knife, and the smell gets stronger. Now imagine you pick up half of the lemon and take a huge bite out of it, holding it in your mouth.

If you are like most people, your mouth will produce saliva—even though the lemon is only in your imagination. You were able to change your body chemistry by focusing your thoughts in a particular way.  This is what happens when we hold onto negative thoughts and beliefs.  Our bitter approach to life comes through because our thoughts make it real.

Yet the opposite is also true.  If you imagine someone you love, the thought can change your sour disposition into something sweet. As the poet Jane Hirshfield said so beautifully:

“As water given sugar sweetens,                                                                                                                                  given salt grows salty,                                                                                                                                                       we become our choices.”

Thank you for reading this. There is much more to come, and  I am glad we are on this journey together. Finally, there is hope.



Introduction to Learned Hopefulness

Dr. Dan Tomasulo

Honored by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers on the issue of depression Dr. Dan Tomasulo, Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP is a core faculty member at the Spirituality Mind Body Institute (SMBI), Teachers College, Columbia University, and holds a Ph.D. in psychology, MFA in writing, and Master of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.

He authors the daily column, Ask the Therapist, for, and developed the Dare to be Happy experiential workshops for Kripalu. His award-winning memoir, American Snake Pit was released in 2018, and his next book, Learned Hopefulness, The Power of Positivity To Overcome Depression, is hailed as: “…the perfect recipe for fulfillment, joy, peace, and expansion of awareness.” by Deepak Chopra, MD: Author of Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential.

Learn more about Dr. Dan at his website.

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APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2020). Introduction to Learned Hopefulness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Mar 2020
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