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Hope is both the unique and universal essence of human life. It is what people live for, fight for, and die for, the answer to every question, the key to leading a life full of peace and happiness.
That bold claim was gently asserted Sunday to a group gathered at the Way Public Library in Perrysburg by Dr. Alphonsus Obayuwana, associate chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo.
He shared findings from his book, The Five Sources of Human Hope: Mirror of Our Humanity, the first in a planned trilogy that explores his 30-year fascination with hope and his efforts to empirically measure it.
“My mission in this life is to acquire hope for myself and to help others get the same. That’s all. There’s nothing else to life,” said Dr. Obayuwana, a Perrysburg resident and native of Nigeria.
He had his first epiphany working with psychiatric patients when he was a medical student in Washington in the late 1970s.
“I was struck [by] how paralytic the depression and the wish not to live was,” he said.
Dr. Thomas Osinowo, chief clinical officer of Northwest Ohio Psychiatric Hospital, was in the audience Sunday and concurred.
“Hopelessness is a huge problem within mental health [fields],” he said.
But even people who contemplate or attempt suicide have hope, Dr. Obayuwana said, hope that something better awaits in death or hope that the agony will finally end.
“Nobody has zero hope,” he said.
Dr. Obayuwana determined that one’s level of hope was as pertinent to ascertaining any patient’s overall health as a blood pressure measurement.
“Sometimes I find out that’s what the problem is, not the illness,” he said.
Funded by a grant from SmithKline pharmaceutical company, Dr. Obayuwana abandoned his then-concurrent doctoral studies in biochemistry to research hope and attempt to establish an index scale by which to measure it.
“Science, after all, is finding objective answers to questions that are posed by man and the environment,” he said.
He concluded that hope — the feeling that what is desired is possible — is an essential human factor and that it springs from five types of assets: intrinsic, family, economic, educational, and religious.
Dr. Obayuwana discovered that these categories mirrored those in which all human activities fell and were the resources people need to successfully cope with life’s stresses.
Hope is bolstered by a sense of personal relevancy, esteem, and worth; perceived support and love from close relationships; contentment with financial or material sufficiency; knowledge and learning about the world and one’s journey in it, and a reassuring set of spiritual beliefs or moral convictions.
Low fuel in any of those tanks can lead to suffering and anxiety, Dr. Obayuwana said, while being intentional about how nurturing and strengthening these assets can lead to fulfillment.
Case in point: Several people from the Edo Heritage Foundation of Michigan, of which Dr. Obayuwana is a member, came to Way Library to hear his presentation.
“We are just there to help each other,” foundation president Bose Ogbeifun-Oviasu said of the group that works on development projects in their home state of Edo, Nigeria.
Dr. Obayuwana expressed gratitude for their presence, as well as for that of all who had come to hear hope on such a gloomy, rainy afternoon.
“Open your eyes, look at these things,” he said of the ways to recognize and cultivate hope.
Phyllis Endicott, a Perrysburg Township resident and a board member for rescue crisis services in Toledo, said attending to hope is critical for people struggling with substance abuse and the accompanying strain on their mental health and that of their families.
“As a society, we are not paying attention to it,” she said.
Dr. Obayuwana plans to follow The Five Sources of Human Hope with a second volume on practical application of his findings, Hope and Happiness, and a third on his reflections of the commonality in the human experience, Everybody Has a Story.
Contact Rebecca Conklin Kleiboemer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-356-8786, or on Twitter @RebeccaConklinK.