Hope as a process and an orientation: a qualitative study of American young adults' relationship with change, difficulty, and uncertainty
Alexander, Elizabeth Smith, 1954-
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In this study I explored the intrapersonal and interpersonal differences among individuals who maintained higher levels of hope for their personal future, with lower hope peers who similarly were experiencing challenging and uncertain circumstances. I administered self-report measures of hope and social connectedness to 76 American young adults aged between 18 and 22 years, in order to sample purposively participants who exemplified higher and lower levels of hope. I used qualitative data from semistructured interviews with 13 individuals recruited from three field sites to develop the current model of hope, then tested the model against an additional three individuals from a separate field site, who had scored highly on hope, in order to establish its generalizability. Total interview time with each of the original 13 participants lasted between two and four hours and I coded the resulting transcription data from audio taped discussions for categories and main themes according to grounded theory guidelines. The emergent model of hope comprised five themes, namely: 1) The Initiating Context: Perceptions of challenge and uncertainty; 2) Temporal Comparisons: Envisioning the future, being realistic about the present, learning from the past; 3) Developing Strategies: Values, goals, planning, and action; 4) Drawing on personal and social resources; 5) Openness and flexibility about outcomes. These data suggested that the higher hope participants differed from their lower hope peers with respect to their relationship with change, difficulty, and uncertainty. The higher hope young adults engaged in a process of hoping that relied on an overall positive orientation toward life. This combination of process and orientation better enabled them to take action, exert control, and regulate the fear experienced when faced with ambiguous outcomes associated with personally important and difficult circumstances. I compared and contrasted this new, inductively-derived model of hope with current conceptualizations from the psychological, philosophical, and nursing literatures on hope, and discussed its theoretical and practical implications.