The huge power of hope / Joe Nathan’s Column

Making Hope Happen


“What makes you feel like you matter? What really matters to you?” Those are two key questions that Shane Lopez urges that we ask ourselves and our youngsters in a terrific new book. Lopez, formerly an award-winning college professor and now a senior scientist in the Gallup (polling) organization, makes a compelling case in his powerful, practical book, “Making Hope Happen.”

By telling stories about real people and citing various studies, Lopez explains how and why hope is important and can be learned. Then he shows how we can help ourselves, and others, become more hopeful. This is a great summer book for parents, grandparents and educators.

Lopez acknowledges that we can’t accomplish everything we want. For example, one of his goals was be shortstop on the Boston Red Sox, a major league baseball team. But he didn’t have the talent needed. So he found other things that also mattered to him and worked toward those goals.

Lopez quotes champion boxer Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Lopez continues, “Life throws punches. A key skill of high-hope people is the ability to plan for ‘ifs,’ the ability to anticipate obstacles and create multiple pathways to each and every goal.”

I’ve also had disappointments. I agree with Lopez: It’s how we react that matters.
Why does hope matter? Lopez cites research showing that hopeful students are more likely to not only enter but graduate from universities. In fact, he points out that scoring high on a “hope study” is a better predictor of graduating than a strong college entrance test score.Hope goes well beyond wishing that things will improve. Lopez reports that hopeful people have four key beliefs: “The future will be better than the present. I have the power to make it so. There are many paths to my goals. None of them is free of obstacles.”

Moreover, hopeful people are healthier. They are less likely to miss work. One study found that hopeful engineers missed less than 1/3 the amount of work over a year than did less hopeful people, not counting planned leaves and vacations. “No other workplace measure counted more than hope in determining whether an employee would show up,” Lopez notes in his book.

Lopez has specific, practical suggestions about how we can help ourselves, and young people become more hopeful. For him, hope “includes high expectations for the future and a clear-eyed view of the obstacles that we need to over in order to get there.” So, for example, he describes “nexting” with a 7-year-old. He asks the youngster about things coming up that matter to the youngster, whether it’s the next baseball or basketball game, a family trip or whatever. Then he urges the development of what he calls a “what/when” plan. What will we do, and when?

Lopez shares many stories showing that modest beginnings don’t prevent later success. And he shows that intelligence is not the key factor in determining later accomplishments.

A future column will discuss what this means for schools. If you want to learn more, this book is an easy, encouraging read.



Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions welcome, please comment below.