Hope—Does It Really Make a Difference?
HE WAS only ten years old, but Daniel had been battling cancer for a year. His doctors had given up hope, as had others close to the boy. But Daniel held on to hope. He believed that he would grow up to be a researcher and help to find a cure for cancer someday. He was especially hopeful regarding the upcoming visit of a doctor who specialized in treating his particular form of cancer. When the day arrived, though, the specialist was forced to cancel his visit because of bad weather. Daniel’s spirits sank. For the first time, he became listless. He died within a few days.
Daniel’s account was related by a health-care worker who studied the role that hope and hopelessness play in relation to health. You may have heard similar stories. An elderly person, for example, lies near death but is eager to reach some long-anticipated milestone—whether the visit of a loved one or simply an anniversary. When the event has come and gone, death quickly ensues. What is at work in such cases? Can hope really be as potent a force as some believe?
A growing number of medical researchers suggest that optimism, hope, and other positive emotions indeed have a powerful effect on a person’s life and health. But such views are hardly unanimous. Some researchers dismiss all such claims as a lot of unscientific folklore. They prefer to think that physical ailments have strictly physical causes.
Of course, skepticism about the importance of hope is not new. Thousands of years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle was asked to define hope and replied: “It is a waking dream.” And more recently, the American statesman Benjamin Franklin observed tartly: “He that lives upon hope will die fasting.”
What, then, is the truth about hope? Is it always mere wishful thinking, a way for people to seek comfort in empty dreams? Or is there valid reason to see hope as something more—something that all of us need for the sake of health and happiness, something with real basis and real benefits?