Research in Global Epidemiology points to hope as one of the most potent traits to cultivate as we mature. The study shows that having a sense of hope is at the very core of our being. Most studies about hope and the impact it has on our life do not include subjects over the age of 50. This study is the first of its kind to study such a large number (nearly 13, 000) with an average age of 66. Older adults with a greater sense of hope are more likely to experience better physical, psychological, and social well-being. These results are something to pay attention to as many of the findings have been indicated at younger ages—but now we have good reason to see hope as something worth cultivating and realizing as we mature. As we live longer and there are more people percentage-wise in our society over 50 than ever before, there is a greater need to understand the factors that help us age well.
Led by researchers affiliated with the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, the current study took their data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).
There were some extraordinary findings concerning physical health. Those with a greater sense of hope had reduced risk of:
- Dying across all causes.
- Developing a number of chronic conditions.
- Having cancer.
- Experiencing chronic pain.
- Suffering from sleep problems.
As if this weren’t enough to make you want to learn more about having hope the psychological benefits were equally compelling. People with higher hope had:
- Increased positivity.
- Higher life satisfaction.
- Greater purpose in life.
- Less psychological distress.
- Better social well-being.
The reverse is also true. With lower levels of hope or hopelessness, there is an elevated risk of anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder PTSD. Having hope, it appears, can be the best protection against a more difficult tomorrow.
There also appears to be a bidirectional relationship between hope and health and well- being factors. In other words, the very things that make for a flourishing life and allow us to thrive, such as our life satisfaction, purpose, mental and physical health, and relationships, predict levels of hope. On the flip side—higher levels of hope are associated with indicators of health and psychological well-being. This is what is meant by bidirectional. As we do things to improve our physical well-being, like better nutrition and exercise—and engage in opportunities to volunteer, increase connections with friends or strengthen our marital relationship, these efforts have the genuine potential of increasing hope. This, in turn, may improve levels of health and well-being and create what researcher Barbara Fredrickson has referred to as an “upward spiral” of positive emotions and well-being.
It is the bidirectional nature that makes learned hopefulness possible. If we can deliberately make efforts to improve our lives, the power of hope can then work its magic. Stimulating hope in this way may be one of the most powerful methods we have to cultivate and strengthen our physical and mental well-being.
Long, K. N., Kim, E. S., Chen, Y., Wilson, M. F., Worthington Jr, E. L., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2020). The role of Hope in subsequent health and well-being for older adults: An outcome-wide longitudinal approach. Global Epidemiology, 100018.