6 Ways to Read Your Hope Barometer and Find Happiness

New research shows how being hopeful can make you a happier person.

Posted Oct 26, 2019

The ability to feel hopeful would seem to be key to your overall happiness and well-being. When you feel hopeful, you feel that good things will come your way. Conversely, one of the hallmark features of depression is a feeling of hopelessness about the future.

Some psychological theories of hope argue this quality is hardwired into your personality, as you will learn shortly. The alternate view is that you can modify how hopeful you tend to feel about the future.

Perhaps you’ve had a tough couple of days during which you’ve lost out on a key job opportunity you were sure you’d nailed. Possibly, you’ve just encountered a temporary setback in a DIY home remodeling project, and instead of the new carpeting laying out smooth and unwrinkled, there are several distinct lumps that no amount of patting will make disappear. In both cases, you started out with the most optimistic of expectations, only to have reality get in the way of your visions of success. Yet, you remain, in your mind, a “hopeful person.” If someone asked you to describe yourself, having high hopes would be at the top of your list of self-rated qualities.

According to a new study by Andreas Krafft et al. (2019), of the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland), there are many definitions of hope that attempt to distinguish it from related concepts, such as optimism, mastery, and self-efficacy. As the authors note, there is a widely-accepted theory that regards hope as a dispositional or hard-wired quality, “a trait-like cognitive mind-set.” As such, your baked-in hopefulness incorporates the two basic components of agency or willpower and “pathways,” or “the belief in your own capabilities to create alternative routes in case of facing obstacles and setbacks,” otherwise known as “way-power.”

If you are a hopeful person, in this dispositional model, you “link yourself to personal success” (p. 1595) no matter what. If not, you're stuck with the feeling that you can never win. Krafft, joining critics of this approach, argues that hope isn't something you're born with or without. Further, Krafft and his colleagues believe that by emphasizing personal agency and that idea of way-power, this trait approach to defining hope leaves less room for the more transcendent qualities of spirituality and religiosity to become part of the equation.

The Swiss team of researchers believes, further, that the dispositional definition of hope provides an inadequate basis for reading how hopeful people feel in their daily lives and experiences. The disposition-based measure, known as the Adult Dispositional Hope Scale (ADHS), contains four items each for agency and pathways.

Other measures available in the literature do get at the spiritual components of hope, along with how people derive hope from spirituality and from their relationships. Indeed, the lengthiest hope scale includes 56 items; other measures have fewer items but a messier set of subscales. These assessments often use language that cannot be easily translatable into forms that people from varying cultures and population subgroups are able to answer. At the opposite end of the spectrum, one group of authors even advocate for a single-item scale (“I feel hopeful about the future”). It’s clear that the literature is far from settled when it comes both to defining and providing reliable ways to gauge a person’s hope levels.

When you think about how you could most accurately provide an answer to questions about your own level of hope, what would you want to include? How would you separate your levels of hope from your levels of optimism? What would you say about your own levels of spirituality?

As the Swiss author team notes, “For many years, an open issue in hope research has been the development of instruments to measure how people perceive hope in everyday life, independently from the theoretical constructs defined by researchers” (p. 1597). Moreover, some of the nuances can become literally lost in translation, as the items also need to be applicable to diverse groups of respondents.

That idea of being sensitive to the views of “the public” stimulated Krafft et al. to rework an existing hope measure developed in conjunction with the World Health Organization, called the Quality of Life, Spirituality, Religion, and Personal Beliefs Questionnaire (WHOQOL-SRPB). They refined this measure to focus exclusively on the concept of “hope,” giving their measure the name "Perceived Hope Scale (PHS)." Its wording is simple, and it translates readily into other languages. To validate the PHS, the authors took advantage of data from nearly 17,500 German and Swiss participants tested over three different years. In addition to completing the PHS, participants rated their feelings of self-efficacy, resilience, gratitude, religious faith, spiritual beliefs, attitudes toward helping, depression, anxiety, and the sense of doing something lasting for future generations. To measure the scale’s ability to predict positive outcomes, the authors also included measures of life satisfaction and subjective well-being.

As you can see, then, Krafft and his fellow researchers took a comprehensive approach to defining hope as well as to developing a measure that would fit rigorous statistical criteria. This work led them to develop the final, six-item instrument. You can answer these items yourself, using their 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) scale:

1. In my life, hope outweighs anxiety.

2. My hopes are usually fulfilled.

3. I feel hopeful.

4. Hope improves the quality of my life.

5. I am hopeful with regard to my life.

6. Even in difficult times, I am able to remain hopeful.

Now look at your average per item and compare it to the average for the entire sample, which was 3.5. Most people scored between about 2.4 and 4.4. If your score was below that range, you can turn to the individual items to see where your own perceived hope fell short.

What does this score say about your ability to experience hope-based happiness? After subjecting the scale to rigorous analyses, examining both the scale’s internal consistency (how well it hangs together) and its validity (relationship to those other measures), the authors concluded that the PHS performed better than the ADHS in its relationships with all of the outcome measures, including negative associations with depression and anxiety. Their analysis, in their words, provided further support for “the argument that hope comes especially into play in situations where people are unable to cope by means of their own resources alone” (p. 1606).

A sense of agency and will power isn't enough to get you through some of life's roughest patches. That loss of job opportunity is one that can crush your hopes unless, in the view of the Swiss researchers, you can turn to spirituality and religious faith. Your hope can also be restored by expressing your altruistic motives for helping others. In other words, this broader definition of hope is one that comes closest to the reality of how people can leave despair behind as they move to the future.

To sum up, hope is a multifaceted psychological state, but as Krafft et al. show, it involves more than just your belief that you can improve your own life through your individual "way-power." If your own hope barometer reads on the low end of the scale, you might consider improving your happiness by turning to the sources of fulfillment available to you in a broader, more transcendent set of resources.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: Rido/Shutterstock

References

Krafft, A. M., Martin-Krumm, C., & Fenouillet, F. (2019). Adaptation, further elaboration, and validation of a scale to measure hope as perceived by people: Discriminant value and predictive utility vis-à-vis dispositional hope. Assessment, 26(8), 1594–1609.  doi:10.1177/1073191117700724.