How Hope Affects Your Health and 5 Ways to Build It


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Research shows that finding hope and optimism can have a positive impact on your mental and physical health. Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images
  • During times like the pandemic, finding hope can be hard.
  • Having hope and being optimistic can make for a healthier, longer life.
  • Taking control, finding silver linings, and planning ahead can bring about hope.

Uncertainty of the pandemic and its long-lasting effects can leave little hope.

“It’s very common that when we’re faced with multilevel challenges in terms of finances, health, lifestyle, relationships, and just living in the pandemic, that we have to dig deeper and work harder to find something to be hopeful about,” Diana Brecher, PhD, clinical psychologist and scholar-in-residence for positive psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto, told Healthline.

As unattainable as hope may seem, research shows that finding hope and optimism can have a positive impact on your mental and physical health.

According to a 2019 study, researchers found that optimism is specifically related to an 11 to 15 percent longer life span, on average, and to greater odds of living to the age of 85 or beyond.

“Research indeed suggests that individuals experiencing greater optimism are more likely to age in health and to live longer; they are also at a decreased risk of developing chronic diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease,” Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, PhD, research scientist and clinical psychologist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Healthline.

She added that optimistic people are more likely to engage in physical activity and eat a healthy diet, as well as less likely to smoke, which in turn contribute to better health over time.

“There is also evidence that optimism is associated with lower risk of hypertension and overweight/obesity, hence reducing the risk of chronic disease and premature mortality later on,” Trudel-Fitzgerald said.

While there’s good reason to become more hopeful, finding ways to build hope can seem challenging.

However, experts say the following five tips can help you tap into the positive side of life.

The renowned and late psychologist Shane J. Lopez described hope as “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.”

“This says to some extent, we are in control of what will happen. While during the pandemic, we can’t control a lot — when the vaccine is available, when you are eligible to take it, if you will get sick — but there are things we can control,” said Brecher.

While the emotions of feeling hopeless are real, she said thinking about what is in your control that can have a positive impact on yourself and others is a good way to counter those feelings.

“Some people are choosing to be proactive toward other people, like helping neighbors or supporting people who are struggling, and by doing so they probably feel more optimistic because they’re able to do something as opposed to feeling stuck and like nothing is going to get better,” said Brecher.

Often when people face challenging situations, they reflect on how they overcame prior similar challenges. However, because the pandemic is unique, this strategy is difficult.

“One way to remain optimistic nowadays is to focus our attention on the good news, such as the development of the vaccine, and limit our consumption of negative news from the media when we feel more vulnerable, anxious, or sad. It is OK to not watch TV or read the newspaper for a few days to protect our mental health,” said Brecher.

Taking note of changes for the better that came out of the pandemic can also bring about positivity and resilience.

“Perhaps one was able to become more physically active by taking a walk every day, reconnect with old friends via technology, spend more time with their kids, or frequently prepare meals at home,” Brecher said.

Whether you write down or think about what you’re grateful for, Trudel-Fitzgerald said research shows that regularly practicing kindness and expressing gratitude can increase happiness and foster optimism “by reminding ourselves that good things are still happening even during darker times.”

Brecher agreed, and noted that humans have an innate negativity bias, which makes this difficult sometimes.

“[It]is hard-wired in our brains to be really attuned to risk, danger, and problems because our survival depends on it, so we have a tendency to be good at noticing danger and risk, however, it takes more intentional effort to notice the things that make us happy and things we can feel grateful for,” she said.

Feeling grateful requires an intentional act, not an instinctual response. To initiate gratefulness, Brecher suggests asking yourself the following questions.

  • What good things happened today?
  • What role did I play in those good things happening?
  • What does it say about me that those good things happened?

“It becomes easier to notice the good things in each day the more you practice this. It becomes a counterbalance to the negativity balance,” said Brecher.

In his book, “Learned Optimism,” Martin Seligman, PhD, defines optimism as an explanatory style people use to understand why good and bad things happen. He wrote that pessimists can learn to be optimists by rethinking how they react to adversity.

For instance, Seligman pointed out that optimistic people tend to believe that negative events are temporary and blame them on causes outside themselves while pessimists point to permanent causes created by themselves.

Additionally, when they fail, optimists see the failure in one area only and bounce back while pessimists believe failure in one area of life means failure in all areas of life.

“So, if something goes wrong and you see it as your fault, you’ll be less optimist, but if you see it as bad luck, you’re more likely to bounce back. Also, if you see it as more situational than pervasive, you’re likely to say, ‘I’ll put it in a box and move on,’” said Brecher.

Planning safe activities that could be achieved once COVID-19 is under control can give you something to look forward to.

“For instance, one could envision a small outside social gathering with a few close friends or family members once the weather is permitting, and start thinking about the details, such as guests, location, music, etc.,” said Trudel-Fitzgerald.

Knowing the pandemic won’t always keep us from seeing the people we love and partaking in our favorite activities might be the most hopeful thought of all.


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