Hope, as a concept and an action-based state of mind, was one of the first lessons I learned during a positive psychology course at Columbia University, and it is a lesson I always carry with me. Hope is perhaps the most important ingredient of our personal psyche.
While the concept of hope in the realm of positive psychology is multi-faceted and looks slightly different than the societally-understood nature of hope, what helped me to understand the nature of such a hope was the idea of micro-changes that are cumulative in nature, and how we, as people, can control of these miniature shifts by recognizing the four important “Cs.” I have added these four Cs to my favorite C of all – Compassion:
We have a Choice about what we feel
We can Change how we think and feel
We can Cultivate sustainable positive feelings
We can Create and inspire this in others
In pursuing a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology with a focus on spirituality, mind, and body, I set a goal for myself. The goal was to better understand what happens to the soul when one is abused, abandoned, or neglected. In a way, it was to better understand my own childhood trauma so that I could answer two important questions: Are the psychological effects of childhood trauma reversible? If yes, then could one develop a holistic framework that could positively impact the mind, body, and soul? Having read Angela Duckworth’s Grit prior to attending this program, I was immensely encouraged to have found more evidence of hope.
After coming to know what hope was as a concept, eventually I found hope. I found hope in approximately 300 abandoned, abused, and neglected children that I had been working with for the past three years in Costa Rica. Hope that a framework to positively and durably impact the minds of these children was indeed possible. Hope that gratitude interventions, such as those used by Seligman and Steen (Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions, 2005) could, over time, bring an effective shift in how these children processed life’s events. Hope that the divine (natural) hierarchy of character strengths, as organized by Peterson and Seligman in Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, 2004, could be altered and restored over time. Hope that the smiles and the optimistic glint in the eyes of these innocent souls could, once again, lighten up the dull environment of the orphanage. Hope that these children may be able to break the vicious cycle of poverty, abuse and neglect and change the directions of future generations in their families. Hope that we could finally begin a journey of healing for which these children had been waiting in line for far too long. Hope that this healing could transform these fragile children into strong adults who could finally claim their right to a self-sustainable life. Finally, I found hope that I too could begin my own journey of healing.
Some science today will continue to dedicate research to the notion that our genetic make-up is to blame for the ills of our society. The discovery of genes like MAOA-L that show the heritability of psychopathic behavior will always have relevance in the world of psychology and for finding new ways of treating mental disorders. What science sometimes fails to see, however, is the root cause of why such genes even exist in the human genome. Were these genes hereditary or acquired from mutations caused by the environment? Perhaps, these are germline mutations that occurred in the parent’s sperm or egg because of the trauma they may have endured. With no scientific evidence to contradict the claim, and perhaps even more evidence to support it with the growing research in epigenetics, I tend to believe that nurture (upbringing), including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), has the power to cause genetic mutations, especially when chronic trauma occurs over a prolonged period of time.
However, I am not here to shift opinions based on my personal convictions. I am certainly not here to change the world. I am simply here to find hope and to give hope to those who are steeped in years, decades and lifetimes of abuse and neglect — one child at a time. Sometimes, a little hope to bring about durable and positive change in one life is enough for a lifetime. My hope is that while we may not be able to change the world, we can certainly do our absolute best to change the world of a few who deserve a fair chance at life.
If you are ready to find the hope needed to change and impact your life, karuna is here to help you. We invite you to join us in the completely free reimagine happiness™ community to unleash compassion and make the world a happier place.