In his classic book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”, Dr. Seuss writes: “You have your brains in your head, you have your feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” It seems that we humans are, by nature, a hopeful group. This is, in fact, true. Hope is a belief that things will be better no matter the odds. Even though it might be unlikely that a positive outcome will occur, we retain hope. We can even feel hopeful during times of stress and adversity. Indeed, it is remarkable that so many trauma survivors feel positively about their futures. It’s not surprising that hope is the single most important predictor of well-being for those who have lived through tough times. So, it’s true: hope does spring eternal. Some say that hope is the same as optimism, but it is not. We can, after all, feel hopeful even when we are stuck in a pessimistic place.
Hard-wired to hope
The science behind hope is quite remarkable. We have learned that our brains are hard-wired to feel good about our future. There is an area of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex that is the neurological area from which the state of hopefulness arises. When this area is active, our brain releases endorphins which improve our moods and make us feel better. So it is actually a fact that we are biologically wired to experience hope. Even more remarkable, we can change our brains over time so this neuroanatomical center can become more active. It is a commonly held misperception that we are destined to lose brain cells as we age. This is not true. Our brains are malleable and we can grow new brain cells by doing new things, thinking new thoughts, exercising and eating certain foods. It turns out that we can learn to choose hopefulness in the same way we can choose the clothes we wear everyday.
Hope springs eternal
Despite this, there are times when we feel negatively about our future. It is the human condition that this happens. During these periods, our hope area is still present in our brain but it is covered up with grief or anger or despair. All we have to do to feel better is deconstruct the walls we sometimes build around our hope centers. Our resilience and courage in doing so is being human in the most admirable ways.
Hope is a soft light that comes from within us. It illuminates a pathway forward out of the darkness that we sometimes feel. It’s like lighting a match when we are standing in a dark tunnel. If we believe in a better tomorrow, we can navigate through adversity today. Hope allows us to move in the direction of our dreams. So, light up the hope center in your soul. If you do, with your brains in your head and your feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose. After all, hope springs eternal.