Hope as an incentive

Hope is awareness of the tension between reality and the ideal

The aim of the project ‘Hope as an incentive’ is to explore how to understand ‘hope’ in an interdisciplinary scientific context, while taking into account the philosophy of Randstad expressed in ‘to know, to serve and to trust’. This research will be conducted in view of the possibility to study practical relationships between hope and human development, and in particular of the relationship between hope and happiness.

In her most elementary form, hope can be regarded as optimism about the future. Hope is awareness of the tension between reality and the ideal that people envision. This makes it a motivating force for development that distinguishes itself from optimism in that it takes into account possible setbacks and is able to formulate alternative goals. In this way, hope enlarges our perseverance and our innovativeness.

We can distinguish between two different kinds of hope; the eager hope for something we have no control over, such as the weather; and ambitious hope that drives us to take action, for example, to invest in a company. In organisational psychology hope is therefore seen as a form of positive psychological capital. Hope and thinking about possible ways to achieve our goals can be a powerful incentive. Hopelessness, pessimism and stress on the other hand, reduce both the will to try something new, as the available resources to do so. Realistic hope could also be a capacity or competence; a belief that influences what we think is possible.

Hope and happiness often go hand in hand

As a positive incentive, hope is important in human development. Hope and happiness, for example, often go hand in hand. Hope can lead to happiness, because hopeful people experience less stress, and because it encourages people to take action and improve their living conditions. Hope can also lead to connections between people and thereby strengthen social cohesion and trust.

In organisations hope also plays an important role. For example, scientific research generally finds a positive correlation between hope at work and life satisfaction, job satisfaction, commitment to the organisation and the health of employees. On the other hand a negative correlation is found between hope and burnout and work related stress.

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Hope as freedom

People will take action and put effort into something when they are convinced that it will positively influence their future. In the economy hope can be interpreted as freedom and the opportunity for people to develop. In this perspective, people are generally regarded as a rational homo economicus.

Hope as virtue

Christian theology finds the ultimate source of hope in God. Hope is considered one of the theological virtues, along with faith and love which together focus on justice and happiness of one’s neighbour. In this, people fulfil a dual role, both as fallen sinner and as imago Dei, created in God’s image.

Hope as conviction

In philosophy, hope can be understood in different ways; for example as a social capacity, a powerful emotion, an intellectual activity associated with moral duty, or as a practical virtue. From an economic-philosophical perspective hope can also be portrayed as the internalized conviction that determines what we think is possible and what goals we set.

Hope as positive capital

Hope is an important topic in ‘positive psychology’, a scientific movement that emphasizes the skills and abilities of ‘healthy’ people. Hope is defined as ‘psychological capital’ that contributes to flexibility, resilience and problem solving skills. Theories about hope from positive psychology generally focus on cognitive, individual and future-oriented aspects of hope.

What we call hope influences different aspects of our lives; it changes the way we think, work and interact with others. In order to understand the complexity of this concept, it would not be sufficient to limit ourselves to the perspective of one discipline. In this project the focus will be on a scientific dialogue between economic and theological conceptions of hope, but psychology and philosophy will also be involved. To work with such an interdisciplinary concept, the central and distinctive characteristics of hope must be explored. Therefore, we cannot ignore the comprehensive worldviews that underlie this concept.

There is a positive correlation between hope at work, job satisfaction and good health

The multidimensional nature of the concept of hope makes it difficult to study it systematically and adequately in practice. But on the basis of current best practices, supplemented with insights from the conceptual assessment, it is possible to formulate good guidelines for measuring hope and thus develop a ‘hope barometer’. In the project ‘Hope as an incentive’ the ‘hope barometer’ will be used in a pilot project researching the experience of hope and happiness among employees and their functioning within an organisation.

The concept of ‘hope’ transcends the boundaries between academic disciplines, world views, as well as the rigid boundary between objective science and the normative, human reality. By studying with scientific accuracy what the structure, conditions and effects are of hope, this project aims to contribute to an increase in happiness, resilience, growth and innovation.

The project ‘Hope as an incentive’ is a collaboration between the Institute of Leadership and Social Ethics, Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Leuven (Prof. Dr. Patrick Nullens) and the Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organisation, Erasmus University Rotterdam (Dr. Martijn Burger).

Prof. dr. Patrick Nullens
Prof. dr. Patrick Nullens Professor Systematic Theology and Rector, Evangelische Theologische Faculteit Leuven