The Cambridge Dictionary defines hope as something good that you want to happen in the future, or a confident feeling about what will happen in the future.
And now scientists writing in the journal Global Epidemiology say having hope can make you healthier, not just physically and psychologically but also in a social wellbeing sense, when you’re older.
By analysing information on almost 13,000 people aged 50 and older, they discovered those who had a greater sense of hope were more likely to be in better physical health, have a greater sense of purpose and life satisfaction, lower emotional distress and improved social wellbeing.
There are logical explanations for why this may happen. If you have hope for the future you may be more likely to have a healthier lifestyle than someone with no or little hope. It keeps you more active and eating healthily, for instance. And according to the researchers it keeps people more engaged with others because they don’t give up on relationships when they’re not going smoothly.
Not having hope, on the other hand, may see someone give up on exercising or eating healthily, and avoiding social engagement.
But hope isn’t the same as optimism, says one of the study’s authors, Dr Everett Worthington, a Virginia Commowealth University professor emeritus. “Optimism is being positive about outcomes,” he says. “Hope, however, isn’t always sure that the outcome will be positive, but it keeps people engaged and moving forward.”
So how can you be more hopeful, especially as you move into the later part of your life?
“Good strategies are to cultivate resilience and stay mentally flexible,” says Professor Worthington. “Also, as we age we need sources of strength that help us persevere. Those turn out to be things like stable romantic relationships, stable friends and support networks, religion and religious communities, and habits that keep us physically active.”