The Hope and Heart Connection
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Hope strengthens the heart and despair ravages it.  This is not a figure of speech, but a fact about the physical organ of heart.  According to a study published in August 97 in American Heart Association's Journal, "Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology," hopelessness is a downer for the heart.  Heart's despair, another name for hopelessness, may increase the risk of future problems for the heart and the blood circulation system.   

The above stated study followed 942 middle-aged men for four years and observed that hopelessness speeds up the narrowing of the arteries, that is, the Atherosclerosis.  The narrowing of the arteries can lead to heart attacks and strokes.  Researchers asked the participants of the study to rate their feelings of hopelessness on a scale of "low," "moderate," or "high."  With ultrasound, they periodically measured how much the participants' arteries hardened.  In four years, the arteries of those who reported high level of hopelessness have narrowed twenty percent more than of those who reported lower levels of hopelessness.  

From purely a physical point of view, one can explain atherosclerosis as a progressive disease in which fat, cholesterol, cellular waste, and calcium collecting in the blood vessels impairs their ability to deliver oxygen and other nutrients to the heart.  This sets the stage for a heart attack or a stroke.  This is all a physical explanation, how does hopelessness fit into it?  Does narrowing of the arteries make us hopeless or does the hopelessness hastens the narrowing of the arteries.  I believe in my heart that the latter is true.  What do you think?     
The researchers claim that the harm that high level of hopelessness causes to the heart is equivalent to smoking a pack a day for four years.   We ask people to quit smoking, why don't we also ask them to quit their hopelessness?  Hopelessness adds to the burden of the disease.  Giving up hope has adverse consequences for the body and the mind.  

Momentary hopelessness is not the culprit.  We all descend in to momentary despair or hopelessness in the face of adversity or a serious illness.  Beware of the chronic hopelessness.  Let not hopelessness dominate your attitude and outlook towards the present, or the future.  Between hope and hopelessness, always chose hope.  
How do you feel about yourself?  Do you habitually feel like a failure or a successful person?   When you think of future, does it appear to be dark or bright?  Hopelessness is the negative attitude concerning oneself and one's future.  The negative attitude regarding the future wears the badge of pessimism.  Hope is the positive attitude concerning oneself and one's future, which stems from optimism.  
If the outlook for future habitually appears grim to you, change it, even if your internal voice says, "you're stupid."  Pessimists say that they live in the real world while so called optimists live in fools' paradise.  We say that pessimists may be better grounded in the reality, but optimists live longer. 
 Scotland in his seminal work, "The Psychology of Hope" defines hopelessness as a negative expectancy about short-term and long-term future.  The problem is a person's negative belief system.  Scotland says that a hopeless person has the following four negative beliefs:  
"Nothing will turn out right for me."
"I will never succeed at what I attempt to do."
"I will never get what I really want."
My worst problems will never be solved."
A hopeless person, when confronted with sickness or other forms of adversity, starts thinking of giving up.  He or she reasons, "I might as well give up because there is nothing I can do about making things better for myself."  Hopeless individuals don't want to try hard to change the present because all they see ahead of themselves is unhappiness and unpleasantness rather than happiness and pleasantness.  
Notice how depressing this line of thinking is.  Hopeless people are really depressed whether they experience the sad mood or not.  Aaron Beck, one of the most recognized authorities on depression, says that depression consists of three negative views: 1 Negative view of the self.  2.  Negative view of the present functioning.  3.  Negative view of the future.  Hopelessness is a major component of depression and plays an important part in a person's decision to attempt suicide.  
In these articles, I have brought to you studies showing the link between the negative emotions, notably, depression, anxiety, and anger and higher incidence of surgeries, other procedures, and death in heart patients.  This study offers us an inside look into a disease as it progresses.  It affirms the age-old belief that hope is the tonic for the heart.                 

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