The Science of Hope


(Beyond general admissions, my daughter is applying to an honors college program that includes research within the student’s field. In the applications process, a 750-word essay is required, explaining the desired area of research, why it’s of importance to the student, and its impact on humanity. It’s a lofty task that, ideally, begins students on an extraordinary academic journey, one that ultimately changes the lives of others. My daughter’s essay is in line with the inspired writing you read here week after week, and so it’s my privilege to share her essay with you this week.)

By Emily C. Smith

As I pursue my undergraduate studies in psychology, there is a much larger life mission at work for me. It’s a passion, a field of study, a research quest that ultimately effects each one of our lives: what’s the origin of hope within the human psyche?

It’s a very personal subject to me, and one that effects the life of every person on the planet. We either have hope or others have hope for us, and if hope is removed from our perspectives and lives, virtually all possibilities cease. Yet, with hope, potential dramatically expands our horizons, where a bleak prognosis becomes potential, where vying is a path for victory. However, the questions remain. What are the origins of hope? Why do some people have hope while others do not? And, how does hope, itself, impact the many circumstances throughout our lives?

I’ve learned about hope in my own life, and wish to extend the power of hope to others. I want to empower others with what I refer to as the “science of hope.”

As a very young child, my mother became addicted to prescription medication. I went through grade school, then junior high watching my mother drift away. I struggled with having hope. I remember being 11, and picking my unconscious mother off of the bedroom floor, tucking her in bed, my heading off to school. I remember sitting in class that morning thinking about all of the times I rushed to hospitals with my father because my mother had overdosed. I thought about all of the times I locked myself in my room as my mom crashed about the house. I remember all of the efforts my father made to put my mother through rehab, threatening to sue doctors who prescribed her more pills. Indeed, I remember sitting in class that morning, knowing my mother’s addiction was killing her – and there was no hope.

My father, though, knew something I didn’t. See, he was born with severe cerebral palsy. He wasn’t expected to live more than a few hours, and once he did, he was declared an absolute vegetable. His life ended up a lesson in never believing in a negative prognosis, but using hope as a guiding light, even in the bleakest of times – maintaining a high-profile career and giving me as much of his time as possible as my mother wasted away.

Soon, the inevitable occurred. My mother moved out, removing herself entirely from our lives. With bare walls because my mother took all of the pictures and very little experience running a house, especially at my young age, I wasn’t just void of hope, I was terrified. We were a 12-year-old and a suddenly-single father with severe cerebral palsy who used a power wheelchair in a bare-bones house – alone.

Yet, my father introduced the one component that would rescue me from my stifling fear and pain: the power of hope.

He hugged me and said, “It’s now just you and me. I don’t know how we’re going to do this, but we are. Soon these walls will be filled with pictures of our life, our dreams rebuilt.”

My father’s unshakable hope was my guide post. I held onto his hope as we learned together how to not just live, but to thrive, that guide post slowly becoming less of a need as it was replaced by my own intrinsic sense of hope.

Despite the tragedy of my family, hope has been the ultimate gift. We all face adversity, but when you have hope, you have the ability to not just survive, but excel. From my home life to my academics to my extracurricular activities, hope has led me to empowering heights. Give me a negative circumstance and I will show you the positives; show me limitations and I will show you possibilities; and show me a grim prognosis and I will show you hope.

I know where I got my hope – that is, from my father, from experiencing adversity and having him lead the way with hope. And, I want to further that legacy by not just portraying hope, but by scientifically defining it for humanity. See, I don’t want hope to merely be a mysterious state of mind that some have and some don’t. Rather, I want to research hope to a tangible level, where it’s a definable tool that doesn’t just elevate our individual lives, but all of humanity.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

12 thoughts on “The Science of Hope”

    1. I am so touched by your wise and thoughtful words, Emily…and know you got to this place because of your Father’s attitude about adversity. Parents teach their children by example and through his Blogs and the books he has written, he has unknowingly changed the lives of many who felt all hope was lost.
      I’m so proud of your accomplishments and can see the joy radiating from your eyes as you pursue your studies.
      Cream rises to the top…and you are the cream of the crop, honey.

    2. Mark & Emily,

      You are both an inspiration to all who know you. Hoping to catch up with you soon. Carl & Anita

  1. Beautiful point of view! I think there is a typo in the sentence “unconscious mother off of the bedroom floor, tucking her in bed, my heading off to school.” that may distract readers from the message you are presenting.

  2. Mark & Emily,
    I learned things I never knew by reading this. I’m so sorry you had to deal with all of that at all, especially so young. You are amazing & inspirational Emily & Mark. I’m so proud of both of you & you do give me hope. I’m sorry I was not able to help you through any of this. I do love you both & am always here for you. Thank you for sharing this, I know you will be amazing & successful in all that you do.

  3. Emily you are a gift to this crazy world. Your hope will lead you to tall mountains, but you are ready. Keep climbing and never, ever reach the top. I know your Dad has lead the way and now, you will be his shining light and continued glow in his eyes. His is a lucky, no you are lucky 🙂 … you both are incredibly lucky in “hope” and love.

  4. Hi Emily & Mark,
    I am a professor at George Mason and more importantly, a Mom of four, my youngest son having spastic quadriplegia CP. Grant is 7 years old and is amazing…. he has taught us more in his short life than I learned in 13 years of college! Your story is an inspiration, especially being a Mom who also heard the words, “he’s going to be a vegetable”, etc. You hit the nail on the head, hope is something no one can ever take from you…. would love to help you on your journey to get to GMU. Good luck…

  5. Emily what an inspiration and encouragement are both you and your dad. “Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick”. What a beautiful thing it is to point someone in the direction of acted and active hope. Blessings Steve (also in a powerchair)

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