As I meet with individuals and couples, either in my role as a church leader or in my role as the Human Resources officer for my employer, I often find people who have lost hope. They have lost hope in their careers, they have lost hope in their relationships, and they have lost hope in their personal and life goals. As I talk to these people and look for some way to help, I am reminded again and again of Rick Snyder and his Hope Theory. In its simplest form Dr. Snyder taught that hope consisted of three elements illustrated in the diagram below from his book: Handbook of Hope (p. 10).
A ⇒ B
The person (A) perceives himself as being capable of producing a route or a pathway (the arrow) to a desired goal (B).
According to Dr. Snyder all three elements are necessary for people to maintain a hopeful position in life. To have hope we need to have a goal, we need to believe we can attain the goal, and we need to see a way – a pathway – to attain it.It occurred to me that this simple model and theory is one way I can both identify what’s holding people back and then recommend ways to help them regain the hope they have lost. For example, I met with a young woman whose life had taken a very difficult turn. She was devastated and hopeless. I remember telling her that I was confident that she would be happy again and that her future could be very bright. I also remember that she looked at me with a look of profound disbelief. While I think she desparately wanted to be happy again, she didn’t believe she could attain it and certainly could not see any pathways to get her there.
Over the weeks and months that we met she began to see options for moving forward. She identified her strengths and interests and pursued them. She began to cultivate a vision of her future. As she did this, her confidence also grew and I could see the elements of hope return and work together. The change in her was obvious – even in the way she walked. It was truly inspiring to watch hope return to my friend’s life.
I discovered that if we could help people identify which of the three elements of Dr. Snyder’s hope theory were missing, we could then identify remedies to get back on track. Some people have no goals. Some people have no confidence or motivation, sometimes called agency. Others may have goals and confidence, but can’t quite figure out where to take the first step.
Positive Psychology offers various exercises and interventions to help extablish (or re-establish) these hope elements. I like to ask people to do the “Best Future Self“ exercise to help them gain a renewed vision of their potential thereby increasing confidence in their ability to achieve their goals. I use the simple “SMART” model of goal-setting to help people set realistic goals that are attainable and motivating. I like to use simple brainstorming or “mind-mapping” techniques to help people create multiple options and pathways to bridge their motivation with their goals. Sonja Lyubomirsky just published a book called, “The How of Happiness” which contains multiple exercises that can also be applied here.
It’s hard to imagine anyone being truly happy without also being hopeful. It’s hard to imagine anyone who is truly hopeful without also being happy. I think they are inseparably connected. I have found that Dr. Snyder’s theory and model of hope provides a wonderful framework to ensure that we are applying the most appropriate positive interventions to help those we care about.
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the chapter on Hope in the Positive Psychology News book, Character Strengths Matter.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Books.
Snyder, C. R. (2000). Handbook of Hope : Theory, Measures, and Applications. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Pathway through the snow courtesy of Chris Smith
Hi, Doug. I work fulltime as a hospice chaplain and grief counselor and study PP with Sean Doyle at NCSU. I was interested in your article re helping folks using Dr. Snyder’s theory and model of hope as it may pertain to helping patients and families maintain “hope” while they deal with terminal illness. Also, how can Snyder’s work be applied to grief and loss? I’d appreciate your insights. Thank you.