The Covid-19 crisis has made the world acutely aware of the importance of ‘hope’. This deeply human emotion is as a muscle that starts firing when the going gets tough. But also in normal times, hope is of great importance – our lives are infused with hope, which motivates us in all our endeavours.
Despite its ubiquity, hope as a phenomenon has only relatively recently become the focus of social science. Important work has been done on hope in the school of positive psychology; well-known is Rick Snyder’s approach to hope as a process involving goals and pathways. Yet hope is more than just a cognitive activity; it also has social, emotional and spiritual dimensions – and it has an economic dimension as well, which can, for example, be measured with the well-known (but somewhat reductionistic) ‘consumer confidence index’.
In 2016, we, as researchers connected to the Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organisation (EHERO), and the Institute of Leadership and Social Ethics (ILSE), started collaborating on the topic of ‘hope’, in The Hope Project, with funding from the Goldschmeding Foundation (https://www.thehopeproject.nl/en/home/).
Specifically, we developed a quantitative, seven-dimensional measuring instrument: The Hope Barometer. We see hope as a combination of cognition, emotion, social connection, virtue, expectation, trust, and spirituality. By means of The Hope Barometer, we have carried out yearly measurements among the Dutch population. Our most recent survey, carried out in September 2021, has led to several important insights.
This year, Dutch citizens score (on a scale of 1 to 10) an average of 6.3 on the Hope-index, with relatively high scores for cognitive (6.9), emotional (7.6), virtuous (7.3) and social hope (6.1), and lower scores for expectations (5.3), trust (5.8) and spiritual hope (5.0).
Unfortunately, the people who score lowest on hope are usually the ones who could probably use some hope in their life. For example, hope is significantly lower among those who have a poor health; are often lonely; have a low income or are unemployed.
Significant societal developments, such as the covid-pandemic, impact how hopeful we feel as a society. During the start of the covid-pandemic in 2020 participants had higher trust and lower expectations compared to the year before, now trust is even lower than before the start of the pandemic, while economic expectations are even higher.
Although there has been quite some attention to the decrease in trust in the national government and political parties, due to criticism of the policies concerning the pandemic, we can see that trust has decreased more broadly. Compared to last year, people have significantly less trust in their family, neighbours, the army, the judicial system, financial institutes, honesty of elections, local police and religious institutes.
Whereas expectations on a whole seem to have become more optimistic over the last year, this is predominantly due to a sharp rise in economic expectations, while expectations for other societal developments have become significantly more negative. Dutch citizens have become significantly more pessimistic when it comes to healthcare, safety, and the climate.
Tracking societal hope over time can be an important source of information, as hope is related to several positive outcomes, such as resiliency, sustainable behaviour, and pro-sociality. Also, research has shown that trust, an important component of hope, is strongly linked to outcomes such as the number of covid-infections by influencing how people behave.
Moreover, hope has a strong relation to resilience. People who score high on the hope index for example more often indicate that they have a social network to fall back on; that they want to help others; and that they try to limit their impact on the environment.
In sum, the insights garnered by means of the measurements of The Hope Barometer are a valuable source of insight for researchers and policy makers.
Dr. Emma Pleeging (EHERO), with Dr. Steven C. van den Heuvel (ILSE)