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Keeping Hope Alive and Well

Updated: Jan 14

- Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC

May 24, 2023

The Light of Hope

Sadness and depression can be deceivingly convincing and tell you there is nothing to look forward to. Traumatic events and memories of them can steal optimism and and take possibilities offline, while grief can leave us feeling empty, lost, alone, and utterly helpless. But hope...hope keeps us afloat. Hope whispers in the darkness, I'm here, even if you only see a flicker, I will help you find your way.


A beacon of light in the starkness of dark, hope offers an

ever-present glow on the shore unnoticed when all is bright.


Hope is a cognitive, personal experience, and clearly identified as a factor for health and well-being (Cheavens, Feldman, Woodward, & Snyder, 2006) and positive life experience. An action-oriented character strength, hope involves agency, motivation, and the confidence that personal goals can be reached.

In hope theory research, Snyder and colleagues (1991) defined hope "as a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful (a) agency, and (b) pathways (planning to meet goals)". The theory of hope involves both the capacity and plan to reach goals of an individual, as well as the belief in having the energy, willpower, and motivation to implement the desired plans.

Hope is related to, but differs from optimism. Optimism is believing that more good things happen then bad things. Hope, however, involves self-efficacy, or belief one has in one's own ability to carry out a certain behavior or plan. "Optimism theory posits that outcome expectancies determine goal-directed behavior, whereas hope theory posits necessary determinants of goal-directed behavior" (Bailey, Eng, Frisch, & Snyder, 2007).

Learned Hopefulness

Recent years of research have revolutionized the theory of hope to include more of an integrative perspective. Many aspects of our lives are impacted by it, and many aspects of our lives impact it.

Hope is believing in a future path. "Hope frees us from the negative bonds of past behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, as well as the influence of present fears" (Worthen & Isakson, 2010). "Hope includes a positive perspective towards the future and is fueled by affirming the lessons of the past, as well as appreciating the possibilities of the present. Hope is possible because we experience its counterparts: despair, suffering, and pain." It is impossible not to experience the suffering within the human condition; some of the literature describes hope as the antidote to suffering and despair.

Hope is an action-oriented mindset which is more goal-oriented than wishful thinking. While there is suffering that is inescapable as humans, hope lets us know that it won't always feel this hard.

"We can develop hope through setting stretch goals (challenging yet achievable) and approach goals (what we should do rather than avoid doing)" Sutton (2022). "They increase our autonomy while helping us become more engaged." Learned hopefulness is the antidote to helplessness and hopelessness.

Ways to make high hope choices
  • Consider goal oriented possibilities rather than having a fixed mindset

  • Noticing the beauty, blessings, and benefits rather than focusing on negatives

  • Encourage positive feelings rather than settling on habitual negativity

  • Focusing on strengths

  • Creating goals that are challenging but realistic

  • Search and find purpose

  • Cherishing relationships instead of retreating or withdrawing from them

Ways we can instill hope in our lives
  • Identify experiences in the past that contributed to hopeful thinking

  • Consider quality goals to pursue

  • Cultivate motivation to begin pursuit of each goal

  • Reflect the ways in which you found hope and were able to overcome obstacles in the past

  • Remember times when unhelpful thoughts interfered with maintaining hopefulness

  • Explore current hopeful attitudes you possess

  • Form relationships and experiences with hopeful people and environments

How to enhance hope in life
  • Build on areas of strength and develop skills where needed

  • Begin to value goal setting and align goals with values, modify as needed

  • Disrupt perfectionist patterns and work towards self-regulation

  • Enhance overall health and wellbeing

  • Consider alternate goal pursuits and strategies to help overcome barriers

  • Contemplate ways to strengthen confidence in beliefs

  • Continue to challenge negative thinking patterns that threaten hope

Cultivate Sustaining Hope

Hope doesn't just naturally exist; it can be learned and cultivated, and is pivotal during times of challenge. How well we can envision possibilities ahead determines hope and motivation (Sutton, 2023). "And unlike other positive emotions, hope is most relevant and valuable when life is at its most difficult or uncertain." Positive Psychology is on a mission to help individuals built more optimism, happiness, and hope.

Positive Psychology encourages learning an optimistic outlook to increase positive expectancies and hope, also allowing yourself to develop a growth mindset where possibilities of improving are in abundance.

"The Best Possible Self" is an activity from Positive Psychology that includes taking time to think about an ideal future. Can you imagine your ideal future without being derailed by barriers? Consider creating an image board, scene, drawing or story to capture what this might look and feel like. Place the image somewhere in your home or on your phone so you can see it and add to it.

Hope written
Hope Loves

Another helpful Positive Psychology activity that is proven to increase optimism and hope includes the "three good things" exercise from the work of Martin Seligman and colleagues.

You may consider writing down three good things that happened at the end of the day, right before bed. These could be big events, or small. Then examine and jot down the answers to the following questions for each good thing you listed (Seligman, 2009):

  1. Why did this good thing happen?

  2. What does this mean to me?

  3. How can I have more of this good thing in the future?

Seligman and colleagues research shows this activity of three good things consistently followed for 30 days enhances overall optimism and happiness. But it didn't stop there, there were consistent elevations in wellbeing 3 and 6 months following.

Hope embodies self-efficacy, willpower and invigorates resilience. Hope can be lost, and also can be found. Hope can be learned, it can be taught, it can grow, and it can spread. Cultivating more hope and hopefulness in life can invigorate our thinking and experience of living everyday.

Ambassadors of Hope

Sometimes an ambassador or keeper of hope can help ignite the spark within. Family, friends, supportive others can be helpful on this quest. When you cannot see the beacon of hope through the fog of life, keep looking, even if it an anchor on a distant shore, hope is always there.

Stepping Toward Serenity offers two services for instilling hope and resilience: professional coaching services with Charles Jacobson, National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach (, and professional counseling with Teresa Jacobson, Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor (

Reaching for the stars
Hope can reach the stars


Stepping Toward Serenity
We can help

Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits.

A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting



Bailey, T.C., Eng, W., Frisch, M.B. and Snyder, C.R. (2007). Hope and optimism as related to life

satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2(3):168-175. DOI: 10.1080/17439760701409546

Cheavens, J.S., Feldman, D.B., Woodward, J.T., and Snyder, C.R. (2006). Hope in cognitive

psychotherapies: On working with client strengths. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An

International Quarterly 20(2): 135-145.

Seligman, M. (2009, November 20). Three good things. Positive psychology on YouTube. Retrieved

Sutton, J. (2022, October 23). How learned hopefulness can change your client's life. Retrieved from

Worthen V., and Isakson R. (2010). Hope, the anchor of the soul: Cultivating hope and positive

expectancy. Issues in Religion and Psychotherapy, 33(1). Retrieved from


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