Hope has become an important word and concept in the world of neuroplasticity. When one is hopeful it actually sculpts the brain, thus creating a better you. Researchers realize it is not education or intelligence that causes a person to be happy, successful in work or relationships, or generally confident in life. The new literature teaches that one of the key elements to a good life is learning how to abide in hope.
The Bible’s definition of hope and the word’s common usage are slightly different. Bible hope is based on our belief in God’s faithfulness to his promises. In secular terms hope is how a person relates to himself and those around him.
It is known that hope is developed (or not) in the brains of children when they are very young. The young child’s brain is wired/built to think positively. The pattern of our thoughts continues to shape our brain by means of chemicals that are released by our thought patterns. These chemicals create positive feelings producing a hormonal response, which results in a good brain—that is if our thoughts are positive and hopeful. Got that? Let me state it this way: It is by their own thoughts their brain releases neurotransmitters (neuro=brain/ transmitter=carries info) that reshape children’s brains so that they develop hopefulness, and hopefulness changes how a person responds to life. Basically, a child’s thoughts, good or bad, physically build the structure of the brain. Hope becomes a physical structure in the brain and it starts very early in a child’s life.
A child can develop hope in the worst of conditions if there is someone who opens a window of it for the child, showing him or her that there is something so much better to look forward to than what they have now. To the child that person is the giver of hope.
I heard a woman at a seminar reflect on her experience as a young child. Her next-door neighbor, who was a very old woman, showed an interest in her simple coloring pages. The lady telling the story said that her life at home as a very young child was hell. Her step-daddy molested her. Her mama drank. And there was never enough food in the nasty, unkept house. The storyteller said that at every opportunity she would run next door where the old lady always welcomed her in for tea and toast and looked at her coloring pages as if they were really special. That woman is now a scientist and said because of that old woman she knew that kitchens could be clean and smell wonderful, that many people were kind, and that she, a poor little girl, was special because this wonderful old lady took time to be her friend. The old lady gave that child the one thing her family denied her—hope. It was the stuff dreams are made of.
I have also listened to other women telling stories of how mistreated they have always been, how if only someone would give them a break and treat them kindly then things would be so different. These women as children were not molested, had plenty to eat, and lived in a decent environment; yet now as adults they continue to live defeated lives. In counseling I hear them recount feelings of rejection, “My mom didn’t like me in the kitchen as I was a bothersome child, so I never learned to love to cook.” “My mom was such a wonderful seamstress. I really wish I could have learned but I drove my mom crazy when she tried to teach me. I know I tried her patience.” In the young, tender years hope can be given and hope can be taken away.
I have heard boys say, “Me and my dad, we just can’t fix stuff like John can, so we don’t even try because it makes us mad when we mess up.” A good daddy can take away hope and not have any idea he is doing it.
You can see why children who are instilled with hope usually don’t succumb to the three dreadful Ds: depression, dejection, and drugs. The hopeful brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine that causes the person to feel good, be confident, and have hope rather than despair. When they fail or make really bad decisions, those with hope are quick to forgive themselves and move on rather than live with overwhelming regret. Regret wrecks more lives than most anything. Hopeful people are often spoken of as strong individuals or as people who are strong in spirit. That is a good portrayal of what hope creates in a person.
Hope should start at home. It is best developed by accomplishing goals. Unknowns cause fear, so introducing a child to lots of interesting projects and ideas will build confidence, and that deposits into his bank of hope. Simple things like helping dad with changing a tire or helping him when he fills the car with gas. Letting the little person hold the gas pump along with your hand will build confidence, and with that add to his bank of hope. The little person is feeling that when he is old he will be able to do all these big-people things. Helping mom stir a cake or sniff the seasoning of choice for the roast being prepared for dinner are tiny daily happenings that not only train a child but instill in them a knowledge that they can do what Mama does. Accomplishments build hope for harder things to come.
Children who are raised sitting at a desk struggling to learn and feeling dumb will feel the same as an adult. To build hope a child needs to accomplish anything—or at least feel they can accomplish something. The more success that happens in a child’s life and the more varied the accomplishments, the more hope is built.
Grit or perseverance is also a hope builder. Among Chinese and Japanese children there is a marked trait of true grit. They study harder, they struggle to be the best, and as a result, as teens they greatly outperform other ethnic groups in math and science. Traditionally, these children are trained that they can, should, and will succeed. It will be hard. They must stay focused, but their goal is to be the best. The parents make great sacrifices in order that their children have the needed resources, and the children see this and it makes them feel very important. It builds confidence and hope. This tradition gives the children a vision that they can do anything they put their mind to.
Here is a snapshot of hope:
I read a lot of medical and psychobiology literature because I appreciate the insight into what makes people tick and how the brain changes with day-to-day habits. I have often read or heard scientists decry the modern habit of children watching dumb cartoons at home or when riding in a car or while sitting in a shopping cart. They should be engaged in conversation or observing the world around them as they ride in the car or shop in the grocery store. Scientists KNOW that the brains of these children are not being well developed. The children are missing life, thus brain development. It is COMMON to hear these doctors speak with deep concern about the lack of brain advancement they see in children due to moms choosing to hush their children with cartoons. It is the child’s brain that is hushed.
It might seem odd to a mom to think that her child will gain confidence by seeing her pay for groceries, and with that tiny sliver of confidence he will feel good about himself, especially if he gets to be a part of the process in some tiny way. Knowledge gives confidence and confidence builds hope that they can do this. The knowledge he obtains from experiencing a transaction releases positive neurotransmitters that reshape his brain with thousands of connectors. And it is hard for a young mama to understand that a bunch of these simple life happenings could somewhere down the road of life spare her child from the three dreadful Ds.
This is just a short introduction to hope and how it is an important part of brain development and neuroplasticity. I know that many of you, instead of feeling hopeful as you have read this article, are feeling and thinking that you have missed out on life. You know that you often worry that people are thinking poorly of you. You know you lack self-restraint and self-control. You know you feel sad or tired a lot of the time. You know you are likely passing some of this hopelessness on to your children. No hope? No problem. God made a way.
In the study of neuroplasticity (the study of how the brain changes even the physical structure by our thoughts and actions) it is clear that all scientists see that if a person follows what the Bible teaches, the brain and thus the body will be healthier and stronger. I have to admit I have only heard a few willing to ascribe hope to Bible teaching, but the inference is clearly there. Scientists know the brain is ever changing because of how we choose to think and react. They know that if we make a decision to stop negative, pouty thoughts and instead focus on giving thanks, it will cause the brain to produce neurotransmitters that will cause the person to be happier and more productive, have lots of confidence, practice self-control in all areas of life, and generally have a better life. They know the more a person shifts their thoughts to positive things, the more the brain responds in kind and changes in structure. They see that the more thanksgiving a person chooses to have, the more the brain changes. Of all the areas now taught on how to change the brain to bring hope, the most powerful is that of learning to give and feel thanksgiving.
So, if you missed getting hope as a child then please don’t feed your brain more despair; rather, have hope because God has made a way for your brain function to bring you to all good things.
Philippians chapter 4 tells us how:
4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. [show happiness]
5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. [practice self-control]
6 Be careful for nothing [stop worrying and fretting]; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. [thanksgiving is a BIG neurotransmitter maker]
7 And the peace of God [meditate on good things, which brings peace], which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. [Your brain will respond and grow—literally change physical shapes when you think good thoughts.]
9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
If you would like to read more on this subject get my book Create a Better Brain through Neuroplasticity.