This article was originally published in the Human Flourishing Lab.

Announcement: Fanning the Flames of Hope in North Dakota

August 23, 2023 — Today, Strengthen ND is announcing a new partnership with the Human Flourishing Lab to study and promote hope across North Dakota.

“We couldn’t be more optimistic and excited about our partnership with the Human Flourishing Lab,” said Megan Langley, Executive Director of Strengthen ND. “It is a tremendous opportunity to work alongside subject-matter experts and North Dakotans to spur greater learnings about our communities, culture and possibilities.”

North Dakota, like many rural states, has experienced steady and substantial increases in mental illness and substance use disorders over the past decade. “Deaths of despair,” or deaths attributable to suicide, drug overdose and alcoholic liver disease, have lowered the state’s life expectancy. In addition, long-term rural outmigration has dissolved the family and social bonds that characterized many communities, while geographic isolation, lack of infrastructure and inequitable access to services create difficulties in addressing these issues.

Amidst these challenges, Strengthen ND and the Human Flourishing Lab are striving to understand the impact of hope, especially for North Dakota’s rural, indigenous, and New American communities, including: how hopeful are North Dakotans across different cultural, ethnic and geographic groups; what gives them hope; how does hope spread; and what can communities do to foster hope? 

Strengthen ND is uniquely positioned to provide access and information in this mission. With their ongoing community development work, their efforts and those of their partners will be a catalyst for our learning.

The project will be led by psychologist Dr. Clay Routledge, Vice President of Research and Director of the Human Flourishing Lab at the Archbridge Institute—a nonpartisan, independent public policy think tank based in Washington, DC.

“Hope is critical for individual and community flourishing, and it is at the core of the American Dream. Studies show that people who are hopeful enjoy better physical, mental, and social health. Hope inspires people to strive to improve their own lives and the lives of others,” said Routledge.

Routledge is a leading expert in existential psychology. His work focuses on helping people reach their full potential and live meaningful lives. He also has a personal connection to North Dakota, where he lived and worked as a professor at North Dakota State University for 15 years. He and others involved with the project seek to uncover a blueprint that may extend outside of the state’s borders.

“North Dakota is a microcosm of rural and small-town America. The changes and challenges that North Dakotans are facing are happening across the country. The lessons we learn in North Dakota will apply beyond its borders,” remarked Routledge.

In many ways, North Dakota is thriving. The state boasts a strong and growing economy, abundant employment opportunities, affordable cost of living, a young and increasingly diverse population, high birth rates and family and community bonds in the form of social capital.

There are many reasons North Dakotans should be hopeful. Strengthen ND and the Human Flourishing Lab want to unleash that hope to help people overcome challenges, improve individual and community life and elevate optimism for the future.

“Hope for a better life and a place to call ‘home’ is why many of my ancestors came to North Dakota,” added Langley. “We can’t wait to see the outcomes of this work over the coming year and the hope that it inspires 10, 20 or 50 years from now.”

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