This is a transcription of a short clip in which Dr. Hellman shares more behind his research on Hope, including as it applies to well-being and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). You can watch the video here.

This is the part where I’m going to ask you to engage with me a little bit using the chat function. Before I get started, when you hear the word hope – what are some terms that come to mind? What does hope mean for you.

Answers from chat: “Something better.” “Things can get better.” “A brighter future.”

While you’re thinking about what hope means to you, let me ask this additional question. Is hope a feeling or is it an emotion or is it a way of thinking?

Answer from chat: “Hope is a feeling.”

Here’s how we define hope. Hope is the belief that your future will be better than today and that you have the power to make it so. We define hope as a way of thinking and the reason that is so important in this context is as we begin to think about the power of hope, the reason it’s so important to consider it as a thinking process and not an emotion, is because it can be taught. It is something that we can teach both children and adults. The other thing about this definition, the belief that the future will be better and that you have the power to make it so, if we stopped at the midpoint, hope is the belief the future will be better, that is optimism. A few of you typed that into the chat. It’s this last part of the definition that is so critical. You have the power to make it so distinguishes hope from just positive perspectives of the future.

Hope is based upon these three categories. These three simple ideas. First is the idea that goals become the cornerstone of our ability to hope. The goals that we set dictate our potential for hope. The two main components include pathways, which are the road maps of how we’re going to achieve or pursue our goals. That is, ‘how do we get there from here’. The final part, willpower, is the mental energy or the motivation that we have to pursue those pathways. Goals, pathways, and willpower.

I want to distinguish a couple of things that we’ve learned about high trauma youth and their ability to set goals. What we’ve learned, is that high trauma youth are much better at short-term goal setting than they are long-term goal setting. So, they are much better at starting to think about goals that are 24 or 48 hours or one week than long-term thinking. We refer to this as an idea of survival hope. When we’re thinking about goals around our safety or goals around surviving, it’s in the short term. The other thing we’ve learned is that high trauma children and adults are more likely to set avoidant goals than they are to set achievement goals. What I mean by that is when I set goals of things that I don’t want to occur, it begins to influence the way I think about pathways. So if a child comes to me, for instance, and says ‘I want to stop fighting with my sister,’ that is from an avoidant framework. The way they think about that goal is going to drive that pathway thinking. I’ll give you a real quick example I tend to use.

I was homeless throughout high school so from about eighth grade on, I spent most of my high school years couch surfing and staying in different locations. When I graduated high school from Helena Goldtree back then, its Timberlake now in northwest Oklahoma, when I graduated, the principal asked us to identify the goals that we had for the future. I will tell you, when I was examining that process it was the first time in several months or years that I’ve thought beyond where am I going to eat, where am I going to sleep, where am I going to be able to take a shower, and I started to think about what options I had. My goal, my options as I understood it, were that I could work on somebody’s farm, I could work at the local prison, I could join the military, or I could go to college. So I chose going to college, not to achieve a college degree but to avoid the other options. As a result, my first semester grade point average at Northwestern Oklahoma State University was a 0.56. I failed every class but one. Because my goal was to avoid the other options, my path pathways were not about attending class or studying for exams.

So you can see that goals influence our pathways. Thinking goals, pathways, and willpower make up the core components of our ability to hope.


Hope Rising SEL’s curriculum is based on Dr. Chan Hellman’s definition of Hope, and it is making a difference in many schools and communities across the country.

If your school isn’t using My Best Me yet, we would love to help you bring Hope to your school. Our sales team is ready to answer your questions and demo My Best Me for you. Contact us to start spreading Hope in your school.