Is Hope the New Antibiotic for Physical Illness?
Christy Lewis and Kendell Munzer
What is hope exactly? It is certainly a term we use freely in our lives, and often daily. “Hope” you’re feeling better soon. “Hope” you do good on your exam. “Hope” you have a good trip. It is very much a part of our everyday vocabulary, yet even when brilliant scholars try and capture hope’s essence, the meaning is quite intangible. In fact, this rather elusive concept of hope has been written about across many civilizations and even dates back to about 485, to one of the oldest books ever written, the Bible. In the Bible, one of the most familiar quotes about hope is “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12, NLT). Thereby, the very essence of the Bible is built on the idea of hope and that Jesus died and took on people’s sins, judgements, condemnations, and shame, so they will be rewarded in heaven free of illness, pain, and suffering, and according to the gifts they have received from God.
Building on the concept of hope and moving forward to modern times, there are many neuroscientists and psychologists, along with religious, spiritual, and political leaders, who have written notable views about hope and how our body responds to thoughts and emotions. One inspirational present-day author is Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher, who has dedicated his life to inspiring hope in others, and writes about love, happiness, and how to live in the moment. Terry Small is a popular learning skills specialist and master teacher with extensive experience in applied neuroscience, who is the author of the Brain Bulletin, a series of articles dedicated to brain health.
Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Mark George, and Dr. Robert Sapolsky are authors and neuroscientists who specialize in brain and behavior. Dr. Amen and Dr. George are part of an ever-growing movement that includes brain imaging to educate the public about the importance of brain health by instilling hope to those who suffer from mental or physical illnesses. Charles R. Snyder, a distinguished professor of clinical psychology and American psychologist, presented his theory of hope which includes a well-defined model of goal directed thoughts and emotions. He offered the assumption that hope is derived from acquired learning – not only a cognitive characteristic but also a dynamic state. He said hope is based on the target from which it cannot be separated. We can also mention Viktor Frankel, who offered a now famous and inspirational story of finding hope in a concentration camp. Frankel is truly a man who exemplifies hope in every sense of the word. In this essay, we will synthesize the diverse perspectives on hope offered by these researchers and practitioners and will offer our personal stories of how we both use hope to cope with chronic illness and disease.