A new survey focusing on the “levels of hope” in Thurston County was conducted nearly a year and a half ago and the results will be announced at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 17 at the South Puget Sound Community College Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts. 

Speakers for the event include University of Oklahoma professor Chen Hellman and Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim.

Hellman defines hope as the belief that you can make the future better than the present. The idea that you have the power to make the change is important in defining hope because it inspires you to take action, he said. 

“Hope is based upon the idea that we can develop the pathways or strategies to achieve our goals and that we can generate the motivation to pursue those pathways,” Hellman said. 

Tunheim said it is very important to know how hopeful a community is. He said it lets people know how to improve their community. There have been studies that Hellman has conducted that show that a hopeful individual will be a more productive member of society.

“The research is really starting to tell us that higher hope individuals have a higher likelihood to be able to thrive and flourish,” Tunhiem said. “The hope actually predicts a person's ability to thrive and flourish. So we walo believe that a hopeful community will be able to predict the community's ability to thrive and flourish.”

The theory is essentially that knowing how hopeful the community is will allow people to predict community wellness. 

One of Hellman’s larger studies was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, about a year ago. The study was very similar to the study that was conducted in Thurston County; however, this study focused on the hope levels of individuals, while the study in Thurston County is focused on the community as a whole. 

The Tulsa study showed that hope scores were associated with higher life expectancy, meaning hopeful people tend to live longer. The study also showed that higher hope led to higher voter turnout, which led to the conclusion that hope promoted social action. Higher hope also showed a decline in depression. 

Hellman is a quantitative psychologist by training and started studying hope when he started looking at issues in organizational effectiveness. He said that he became interested in non-profit organizations that focus on human services, such as child maltreatment. 

“I actually was able to interact with a client who had horrible, horrible adversity in their lives but they weren’t depressed or anxious,” Hellman said. “They were actually talking about their goals and the pathways that they had, and I just became curious. It actually allowed me to have a better understanding of the human condition.” 

Hellman was able to relate this meeting with his experience of being homeless through high school. He was able to look back and study his own actions and how it related to his own hopefulness. 

“The language of hope became sort of a clarifying framework of understanding human behavior,” he said. 

Hellman said that he was impressed with Thurston County and its community leaders who have embraced the concept of community hope. He plans to remain an adviser to the study after the announcement on Sept. 17.

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