President Obama
continues to urge Americans to choose hope over fear.  The choice
is vital. Hope and fear are not mere words or facial gestures. They’re
deeply felt neurochemical stances toward our current circumstances –
stances that alter our outlooks, our actions, as well as the life paths
that unfold before us.

Fear closes us down. Our actions become
rigid and predictable. Pessimism pervades our self-talk and drives our
decisions. Our bleak outlooks bleed into our exchanges with family,
friends, and colleagues, eroding any collective sense of safety or
security. Fear’s negativity also seeps into our bodies and affects our
health. We can feel it eating away at our stomachs, raising our stress
hormones, and turning our shoulder and neck muscles into stone.

But what about hope? Do we truly know all that it offers?  Can hope lead us out of these dark times?

Hope
is not your typical form of positivity. Most positive emotions arise
when we feel safe and satiated. Hope is the exception. It comes into
play when our circumstances are dire – things are not going well or at
least there’s considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out.
Hope arises precisely within those moments when fear, hopelessness or
despair seem just as likely.  Perhaps you’ve just lost your job,
your dreams for starting a new business or retiring. Hope, in times
like these, is what psychologist Richard Lazarus describes as “fearing the worst but yearning for better.”

Hope
literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and
allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our
dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of
hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or
uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better.
Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps
us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing
rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature
capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to
build a better future.

Anthropologist Lionel Tiger
casts hope as the evolved antidote to our big human forebrains. Unlike
any other earthly creature, we humans can envision our own futures and,
in so doing, all possible calamities. Without hope, our dire forecasts
might constrain us to motionless despair. Yet with hope, we become
energized to do as much as we can to solve our current dilemmas, to
make a good life for ourselves and for others. 

We face
serious challenges in this country, economic and personal, large-scale
and intimate. The choice of hope over fear is pivotal for all of us.
The more hope we cultivate today, the better equipped we’ll be to
survive and thrive in the months and years ahead. We’re going to need
the openness of hope to face our challenges with clear eyes and to find
the creative solutions that allow us to come through these dark times
stronger than ever. So let us be human – let us choose hope and build
our better future.

Barbara Fredrickson is the author of Positivity and Kenan Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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