The Greek myth, Pandora’s Box, attests to the importance of hope to human existence. Self-reflection will also reveal hope is at or near the root of many of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. To wit: count the number of times the word “hope,” or one of its ilk, is used casually in everyday language. Hope is simply important for human existence: why do anything at all, if there is no desire for good times in the future? Since we are not soothsayers, we can only hope our efforts are worthwhile, that we make a difference; we can only believe “things will get better.” Otherwise, we would simply kill ourselves.
Existing hope theories in humanistic psychology generally concern small, non-existential hope, which lack face validity in that they fail to capture the transcendent quality many people associate with hope. My exploratory, interpretive study uses insights from eleven interviews with veterans and civilians who have either deployed to Afghanistan and/or Iraq (for Operations-Enduring- and Iraqi-Freedom) and their significant others to propose three related process models of existential hope, suggesting how hope is gained, sustained, and dashed over time. Findings suggest hope represents only two of four possible processes of dealing with existential angst. The first process is having self- and social-awareness; or awareness of one’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The second process mainly involves interpretation of angst, or circumstances. To find fulfillment, one must have the courage to risk, which is dependent upon faith and trust. Faith is dependent upon imagination, while trust is dependent upon interpretations of security. Interpretation is dependent upon awareness and optimism. If one decides to risk, hope is sustained by maintaining adequate levels of each construct, as well as acting effectively once one decides to act.