“I used to think hope was just a warm, vague feeling. It was that sense of excitement that I got before Christmas when I was a child. It lingered a while and then disappeared,” writes author and Gallup senior scientist Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D, in his book Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe hope has a fleeting quality for you, too. Maybe you also associate hope with childhood, a kind of effervescence that didn’t survive the transition into adulthood.

Today, Lopez, who’s a leading researcher of hope, has a different perspective. He views hope like oxygen. “We can’t live without hope.”

Why is hope so important?

For instance, Lopez and his colleagues conducted three meta-analyses. Their findings showed that hope leads to everything from better performance in school to more success in the workplace to greater happiness overall. And it makes sense. According to Lopez, “When we’re excited about ‘what’s next,’ we invest more in our daily life, and we can see beyond current challenges.”

Unfortunately, only half of us measure high in hope, Lopez notes in the book. Fortunately, however, hope can be learned. Hopeful people share four core beliefs, according to Lopez:

  1. The future will be better than the present.
  2. I have the power to make it so.
  3. There are many paths to my goals.
  4. None of them is free of obstacles.

Hope includes a range of emotions, such as joy, awe and excitement. But it’s not empty, tunnel-vision enthusiasm. Hope is a combination of your head and heart, Lopez writes. He describes hope as “the golden mean between euphoria and fear. It is a feeling where transcendence meets reason and caution meets passion.”

Lopez also distinguishes hope from other terms such as optimism. He notes that optimism is an attitude. You think your future will be better than today. But hope is both the belief in a better future and the action to make it happen.

As Lopez writes, “You might consider yourself a hard-nosed realist, even a pessimist – someone who sees the world in a clear, cold light – but you take action to improve any situation that’s important to you.”

In the book, Lopez shares how readers can accomplish our goals, become confident about the future, cultivate hope every day and create hope in our society. He reveals the 3-step process that propels hope into action: goals, agency and pathways.

In other words, hopeful people pick good goals, know how to make them happen, and spot and seek out the pathways that will move them forward.

For many people, it’s the last part that trips us up. (But picking goals also can be tricky. According to Lopez, pick goals that you’re excited about pursuing and align with your strengths.) Hopeful people use cues and defaults to make it easier for them to achieve their aspirations.

For instance, Lopez’s friend wears an electronic bracelet that vibrates every 20 minutes to remind her to get up and stretch or walk down the hall.

A default helps your goal thrive on autopilot. There’s no decision to make; it’s made for you. For example, if you’re trying to save money, every month, you have your bank automatically transfer the same amount of money from your checking into your savings account, Lopez writes.

In the book Lopez also underscores that hope is contagious. “Your hope is actually dependent on your entire social network, including best friends, role models and secondhand associates. And your hope can be shared with others.”

According to Lopez, we can spread hope by modeling it through stories and our actions and providing support to others. Hope gives us the power to effect change.

As he writes, “Please build up your hope. Then with hope to spare, help others build a future that is better than the present. Much better.”