Shane Lopez planned to fly into the Twin Cities in mid-April on an ordinary academic mission. He would share his extensive research with faculty and students at the University of Minnesota, something the Gallup senior scientist has done countless times.
But when you are a world expert on “the science of hope,” and you are speaking the day after the Boston bombings, you’re likely to have to adjust your script a bit.
So Lopez did.
“We’ve just had a series of events that have put us on unsure footing,” said Lopez, who spoke to 250 jittery U students and faculty April 16. Many didn’t want to talk about hope. They wanted to talk about fear.
“A lot of us have lost our bearings,” he said. “We’re not sure where true north is anymore. A week like [Boston] is psychologically exhausting.”
It’s been a psychologically exhausting month, not just with Boston, but with the crushing rejection of a thoughtful gun bill, and a second suspect arrested in India for the rape of a 5-year-old.
Hope in humanity? Can you check back later?
While it would be tempting to respond with fear, or anger, Lopez hopes we won’t. The University of Kansas business professor and author of the new book, “Making Hope Happen,” says that hope is far more than a feel-good sentiment.
Having hope, maintaining hope, and inspiring others to hope, he has discovered over years of measuring it, leads to greater personal success in school, work and life, but also to better lives for those around us.
A hopeful teacher, for example, believes that students can have a better future and gives them what they need to make it so. Many of us can picture that very teacher in our own lives.
And it is students whom Lopez worries about most. Our young people, he said, won’t lose hope because of tragic news events. They’ll lose hope if the adults in their life do.
Primed to be hopeful
He shares one survey in which fully 95 percent of fifth- through 12th-graders said that it was likely they will have a better life than their parents. But in a separate Gallup poll, half of U.S. adults aged 18 and older said they doubted the kids’ contention.
Clearly, children are primed to be hopeful, Lopez said. Then, we squeeze it out of them.
“My biggest concern is how our approach is affecting our children,” Lopez said. “What are they learning through our modeling about how to approach the future? They still are gung-ho about the future, but what I struggle with is, how can we best help them make amazing things happen in their lives?”
Find something that matters
Lopez suggests that we up our hope ante by, first, attaching ourselves to something we’re jazzed about in our work or personal lives.
“You’re not going to feel hopeful until you’re chasing after something that really matters to you,” he said.
“Many of us are in jobs that aren’t feeding us emotionally. To rekindle that hopeful spirit, you have to be excited about a goal in your life.”
He also suggests that we find ourselves a hope mentor, if you will. “Find the most hopeful person in your life and spend time with that person,” he suggested. “Being around someone who has hope will fill you with that positive emotion,” he promises.
“And watching them will teach you how to behave in a positive way, how to push again despite setbacks.”
Those mentors can appear in surprising ways. Adam Moen, who attended one of Lopez’s talks, found his hope mentor at a coffee shop.
Moen, 22, graduated from the U in December with a degree in finance. In his junior year, he traveled to Brazil, returning home feeling depressed and turning to drugs and alcohol to “escape.”
He eventually sought professional help and leaned on his parents, too, who were deeply concerned. But he walked into a St. Paul coffee shop one day to talk with a recovering alcoholic turned life coach who told Moen: “You have to wake up every day and repeat 100 times that you’re worth something,” he said. “I think you’re a wonderful human being.”
Moen now takes hope to other young people struggling with mental health problems.
“People are very relieved to hear that, even though we have a lot of successes in our lives, it’s our vulnerabilities that connect us,” Moen said.
Finally, in the toughest of times, Lopez reminds us that our deepest human instinct is to be hopeful. The scientist has measured that, too.
“We’re very optimistic creatures,” he said, noting that this is particularly true for Americans. “Eighty-plus percent of Americans lean toward optimism. Most people wake up in the morning thinking the future will be as good or better than the present.”