Does Hope Have a Downside?

Does Hope Have a Downside?

Survivors of the Donner Party and their descendants went on to live in what could be considered a hope-inspired way, possibly made stronger and more lasting because of their ordeal.
Michael Wallis, author of The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party In The Age Of Manifest Destiny, got to know the Donner Party descendants and said, “They’re wonderful people, from every walk of life, and I found who were willing to talk and share some of their archival material. There was no guilt or embarrassment. They know they’re part of history, they’re bright people with a great sense of humor, which is very important” (Worrall, 2017).

In considering the hope it took for the Donner Party survivors to go forward and live productive lives, psychiatrist Neel Burton’s article seems fitting in a philosophical way, “At a deeper level, hope links our present to our past and future, providing us with a metanarrative or overarching story that lends our life shape and meaning. Our hopes are the strands that run through our life, defining our struggles, our successes and setbacks, our strengths and shortcomings, and in some sense ennobling them” (Burton, 2014).

Hope and Helping People

After extensive studies on hope, hope researchers Bruininks and Malle believe hope is an important part of the new psychology model. “Our work fits well into the area of positive psychology with its focus on positive aspects of human life – that is, on strengths, abilities, and pleasant psychological states – rather than on weaknesses, disabilities, and unpleasant psychological states” (Bruininks & Malle, 2006, p. 353).

From the 1960s through 1980s, Psychiatrist Jerome D. Frank, former Johns Hopkins University Medical School professor, was one of the first to say that the process of hope could be found commonly used in various approaches to psychotherapy. He believed that regardless of the psychotherapeutic approach, learning effective goal-directed thinking resulted in positive change in clients, and that psychotherapy that helps clients find a way to attain positive therapeutic goals reflects the pathways component. In addition, “By applying hope theory to several psychotherapies, a potential benefit would be increased cooperation among the proponents of varying camps” (Snyder, Rand, & Sigmon, 2009, pp. 266-267). It seems incumbent on psychotherapists to weigh and consider the use of hope in their own practices as research (and common sense) is proving that hope has demonstrable positive effects on people’s lives.


When I began to write this essay, I set out to demonstrate what I thought was my belief about hope, namely that hope can be a de-motivator for real effort if people passively rely upon it to make their goals and dreams come true. Instead, I found that this intangible we call hope is essential to human beings. While considering the various studies and expert opinions I also came to find that nobody seems to have the one true answer for what hope is and why it can so strongly affect our lives, successes and failures. Hope is even hard to generalize for all people. It seems to show up in different people to different degrees depending upon the circumstances they are faced with, their feelings of self-efficacy, their tendency toward optimism or pessimism, and even their belief in having faith in something they can’t see at the time. Hope is certainly real but our full understanding of it is ever evasive as it has an almost mystical quality that defies being neatly defined. Perhaps a melding of Western and Eastern types of thought (goal directed vs. state of being) would be a more beneficial way to view such an esoteric concept as hope and whether hope is “good or bad.” Used with consideration of each person’s unique nature, hope can be an integral tool towards successful psychological outcomes.

I now envision hope as a kind of pilot light of our “beingness.” The flame burns quietly away at the depth of who we are, rising and lowering depending on our temperaments and circumstances. But if that pilot light goes out completely, we may give up or maybe even cease to be.



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About the Author

Mary McFaddenMary has lived in the Sacramento, California area her entire life. Her undergraduate degrees were in Journalism and Music. Upon graduation she worked for small regional newspapers which launched her career in Sacramento’s city government. She worked several years as an aide to a city councilmember, then moved to the Sacramento Police Department where she worked for over 20 years. Mary worked in a unit providing community policing training to law enforcement throughout California and participated in several curriculum development meetings with the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. She then went on to be a creator and editor for many years of the Police Department’s publications, annual reports and website. While working for the City Council, Mary received her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from The Professional School of Psychology (PSP). She is currently pursuing her Doctorate degree at PSP. Mary’s husband is also a graduate of PSP and they have two grown children. Her education in psychology has been an invaluable part of her professional and private life.

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