Making Hope Happen

Shane Lopez says hope is key to realizing goals

To understand the value of Shane Lopez’ research findings, you first have to understand the difference between hope and wishing.

The difference, he told an audience at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Thursday morning, is that hope involves realistic goals and a plan for achieving them.

“Hope is one of the most valuable assets we have in humankind, but we malign it, we make fun of it, because we confuse it with wishing,” Lopez said at the first of two keynote addresses during a daylong visit to UMKC.

Lopez, a social scientist, former university professor and current researcher for the Gallup polling organization, said true hope doesn’t come naturally; it takes effort. That’s why, according to Gallup surveys, 84 percent of the human population is “optimistic,” but only 50 percent is “hopeful.”

Those who generate true hope, however, gain significant benefit from it. For example, research shows that students who are hopeful have, on average, 12 percent higher academic achievement than people with comparable I.Q. score who lack hope. That 12 percent equates to a full letter grade – the difference between a C and a B.

Lopez’ data comes in part from the more than 1 million young people who have taken the Gallup Student Poll, a measure of hope, engagement, and well-being that Lopez designed for the organization.

Generating hope requires three types of thinking – which, conveniently, form a very familiar acronym for those involved in higher education: GPA.

For Lopez, those letters represent Goals thinking (identifying a realistic objective); Pathways thinking (formulating a path to reach the goal); and Agency thinking (generating the energy and confidence required to follow the path despite obstacles).

“Hopeful people are realistic,” he said. “They know what the obstacles are before them.”

In terms of goal-setting, he said research shows that the core of motivation for most people is “the things you love and the people who love you.” In his books and lectures, he boils those motivators down to the simple phrase “good job, happy family.” When people believe they can achieve “good job, happy family” and have a credible plan for getting there, they are hopeful.

And when they are hopeful, good things happen. Statistics show that hopeful students have higher attendance rates, are more engaged in class and extracurricular activity in school, and are more resilient when things go wrong.

Students who view education as part of their “pathway” to their goal invest time and energy in it, he said. “Tying education to their future gets people to perform better today.”

“You can’t assign tasks to students that they don’t own — that don’t link up in their minds to ‘good job, happy family,’ ” he said. “They need to see how it relates to their future.”

After studying survey results from students around the world, Lopez gained insight on the particular issues of American students. American young people, he said, are generally highly confident but lack concrete, specific plans for achieving their goals. Helping them develop that planning capability can help them become more hopeful.

Lopez also praised the work of UMKC Provost Gail Hackett, a leading scholar in the science of self-efficacy. He said self-efficacy is another term for what he calls Agency Thinking, and is therefore a necessary component of hope.

His interest in the study of hope was piqued, he said, during his studies toward the goal of becoming a neuro-psychologist. “I kept meeting people with high intelligence who had horrible lives,” he said, and he discovered the missing ingredient was hope. Hope, he found, is a prerequisite for happiness.

Lopez was scheduled to deliver another keynote address at 6 p.m. in Pierson Auditorium at the UMKC Atterbury Student Success Center, 5000 Holmes St. He is a Gallup senior scientist and research director for the Clifton Strengths Institute, and author of nine books, including the just-published “Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others”.

According to his official biography, Lopez’ mission is to teach people that investing in their future pays off today. Lopez researches the links between hope, strengths development, academic success, and overall well-being and collaborates with scholars around the world on these issues. He specializes in hope and strengths enhancement for students from preschool through college graduation.

Lopez has published more than 100 articles and chapters and nine books. These include Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths, winner of the Sage Press Book of the Year Award (with C.R. Snyder and Jennifer Teramoto Pedrotti).

Photo credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications.

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