Learning how to be hopeful with Kathryn Goetzke of the Shine Hope Company

Is hope something we need to be taught? Kathryn Goetzke, leading hope researcher and founder of The Shine Hope Company, unpacks the science behind cultivating hope and resilience in the face of adversity. In this conversation, we explore Goetzke's deeply personal journey, her research into America's hopelessness crisis, and practical strategies to design a more hopeful daily life.

Watch the full interview here or listen on your favorite podcast platform here.

Learned hopelessness and learned hopefulness

Kathryn spoke about the concepts of hope and hopelessness, based on her professional research as well as personal experiences. Kathryn described feeling hopeless after her father's suicide as a teenager, leading to her own experiences with addiction and hopelessness. She emphasized the need to understand and teach the science behind cultivating hope, to counteract societal forces that breed hopelessness.

"Hopelessness was really the single consistent predictor of suicide."

Kathryn has made it her mission to develop programs that measure hope levels and teach concrete skills for boosting hope and resilience.

Programs for youth

We touched on the crisis of hopelessness among youth today—for example, in one study, 57% of teen girls reported persistent hopelessness. To combat this, Kathryn developed programs to instill hope competence in children, teens, and young adults. These range from short lessons for early elementary schoolers to a 10-week course on hope skills for college students.

"I started with that age because anxiety and depression, historically it would go up in 11 to 12 year olds. And if you can catch it early and get someone into treatment and then get them the support they need, it's such a lower cost on society, also much better for the individual."

Kathryn explained that she targets pre-teens and adolescents because that is when anxiety and depression typically start rising. Her goal is to provide research-based hope education to youth across settings like schools, extracurriculars, places of worship, and more.

"I'd like to see hope education mandated in school systems."

Kathryn believes hope literacy needs to become a core part of education and mental health given today's crisis levels of hopelessness.

"We're working a license to college campuses across the US. So if you know a college campus that could use some hope skills, it's a course with top mental health, happiness, hope experts, really incredible, incredible experts on it."

Practical tips for cultivating hope

Kathryn stressed starting with small, gradual changes rather than trying to overhaul everything at once.

Ideas include habit stacking, like meditating after brushing your teeth, finding accountability partners, and intentionally incorporating minor happiness boosts throughout the day.

"Once you see that you can change one small little thing, you start thinking, 'Oh, I can change. If I can change that, maybe I could change this. I could change this, maybe I could change this.' And then before you know it, your whole life is different."

Kathryn emphasized being proactive about self-care and positive habits precisely when feeling stressed or hopeless—the more we can build up the good, the more we can equip ourselves to envision what a better life might look like.