The science of hope (and change)
Two days ago, a new President was sworn in to office to lead a little over a hundred million Filipinos in the next six years.
Every new President always inspires hope and enthusiasm in the people. It’s not to say that the previous one didn’t do his/her job right. It’s just that people generally are not satisfied with what they currently have, and they always hope that a new leader will top what the previous leader has achieved.
A survey once said that Filipinos are one of the most “hopeful” peoples in the world, and our being filled with hope and enthusiasm have enabled us to weather a lot of crises in the past.
Skeptics would argue that hope, optimism and enthusiasm are soft concepts that do not have any bearing on long-term outcomes, be it in health or whatever parameter. But, deciding to be hopeful for whatever reason is good; and all studies on mind-body connection tells us that there is a good correlation between health, hope and prayer; and success, too. Most of these studies showed that people who are hopeful about their future and pray regularly, have stronger immune systems, get sick less, and perform better in school or at work. When hospitalized for whatever cause, their hospital stay is shorter and overall recovery from their illness or surgery is faster than those with negative and pessimistic attitudes.
Call it “law of attraction” or positive expectancy, but it all conveys the same message that our dominant thoughts impact heavily on our body and our reality in the near and distant future.
These studies further suggest that hope in people is a potent antidote to anxiety, stress and depression, made more so when combined with quiet time in prayer. And these are not simple “placebo” or psychological effects. Some studies quantified the health benefits by measuring secretion of stomach acid, immune system hormones, cortisol (stress hormone) and endorphins (happy, feel-good chemicals). They all indicate that people who were assessed by a stringent evaluation to be hopeful and optimistic showed far better results than those who were on the other end of the hope spectrum.
If a patient’s hopefulness, optimism and enthusiasm can be good indicators of health outcomes, can they also have hard-edged implications on the future of a country and its people? Shane J. Lopez, PhD, a professor at the University of Kansas School of Business, has conducted researches on how hopefulness can impact big organizations, particularly big business organizations. Somehow, we can perhaps extrapolate the results to bigger populations, such as a nation.
In his book “Making Hope Happen,” Dr. Lopez says that “hopeful leaders get rid of the clumsy obstacles and processes that get in the way.” He adds that hope is the foundation from which all positive changes emanate because hope gives the leader and his people the strong conviction that things will be better and one can make them so. Keeping hope alive, no matter what the challenges are, is a key secret of many successful organizations and nations.
Dr. Lopez, however, clarifies that hoping is different from wishing. While hoping is active, wishing is simply passive thinking. And nonaction-based wishful thinking actually undermines an organization’s chances of success, says the internationally renowned author.
He explains hoping entails focused positive anticipation about the future, putting in all the necessary resources and hard work, closely monitoring the progress until it succeeds, revising plans if necessary to achieve the desired goals. “When you think that the future will be better than the present, you start working harder today—and you’re much more likely to be engaged in your work,” he says in an interview with Gallup.com.
Leaders who make their people feel hopeful about the future are more engaged in fulfilling their responsibilities, whether as an employee, a member of an organization, or a citizen of a nation. In his studies, leaders who made their employees enthusiastic about the future had 69 percent of them being more engaged in their work. Compare that to the
1 percent of those who, based on questionnaire, disagreed or strongly disagreed with their leader about being hopeful about the future.
It is well known and established that a stronger employee engagement results in more successful pursuits of any company because it boosts productivity, quality, customer engagement, retention, safety and profitability. It is likely to result in similar positive outcomes if we have a more engaged citizenry. Creating enthusiasm about the future is a hallmark of hopeful leadership, stresses Dr. Lopez.
Instilling hopefulness, optimism and enthusiasm in the people is not simple rhetoric. People get inspired by concrete, meaningful goals, and the journey to achieve it gives the people the gratifying feeling that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Everyone longs to be part of a team. Great coaches are those who can rally their teams to work together to achieve victory.
A nation is actually just a much bigger team; and great leaders of a nation are those who can rally his/her people to set aside personal differences, make big sacrifices and contribute actively in the attainment of the nation’s common goal.
We wish our new leaders all the best, and may they inspire us to nurture hope—the kind of unifying hope that can really bring change to a divided nation.