What does “hope” mean to you? Years ago I began asking friends, family, and clients what they meant when they talked about hope. I polled the students in my psychology classes. I’d try to draw out audience members whenever I gave a talk. Then I realized that I needed a good prompt to get the conversation going. That’s how the Head-Heart-Holy test came into being. In its current form, it goes like this:
Today we will talk about hope in your lives. Before I get started, I need to know how you make sense of this thing called hope. Here is what we are going to do. I’d like you to raise both hands, and then, on the count of three, please point to where YOUR hope comes from. Given your background and all of your life experiences, where do you think hope originates . . . in your head (pointing to my head)—that thinking part of you . . . in your heart (pointing to my heart)—the feelings that move you . . . or from the holy (my hand makes circles above my head)—whatever you find sacred? Maybe all three, but since you only have two hands, you’ll have to choose your top two. Or you can point to one place with both hands. So, on three, … one… two… three.
Go ahead. Take the test. No one’s watching.
What have I learned over the years from this (admittedly unscientific) exercise? First, that people don’t hesitate—they each have a working theory of hope based on their experiences. And second, they inevitably look around for the people who share their brand of hope.
“Heart” almost always gets the most votes. Most people see hope primarily as an uplifting feeling that makes brief visits to our lives. But many others consider it a gift of the mind that builds on information while putting emotions on the back burner. And “holy” evokes a range of responses, from churchgoers who immediately point straight up, to those who wave their hands around a bit and speak of a higher power, of faith, of the sacred, of nature, of whatever most gives meaning and purpose to their lives.
Which way do you lean? The truth is, wherever your hands land, you can probably expand your sense of hope. A I discuss in Making Hope Happen, the feelings of hope may be ephemeral, but they strongly influence our actions. Hope also requires complex cognitive operations that incorporate, not dismiss, emotions. And hope almost always involves a leap of faith, as we move toward a future that even our best efforts can’t guarantee.