Hope vs Optimism: All The Differences You Never Knew Of

hope vs optimism

In common lingo, we often talk of hope and optimism as a stand-in word for each other. And in psychology, hope and optimism are both positive states that are linked to positive mental health.

So, are there really any differences between the two? And if there are, then do you know of their exact differences?

How Is Hope Different From Optimism

Here is how hope is different from optimism:

Hope is a state of mind and event-specific; optimism is a mental outlook and event-independent. Hope is an ability to work to an action plan to reach a goal; optimism is a positive expectation about an event and does not need working for it.

Hope vs Optimism

HopeOptimism
1.Event-specific and depends on external situationsEvent-independent and does not depend on external situations
2.A state of mind, as a feeling or an emotionA natural mental outlook, as an attitude or a trait
3.More about the ability to work through with an action plan to reach the hoped-for goalMore about positive expectations about an event without any need to work for it
Table: Hope vs Optimism (Table)

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hope as the “desire combined with expectation.” And optimism as the “confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.”

  • Optimism as used in common daily language indicates a “half-full glass” type of person, who it is often implied to have been born that way. But positive psychologist Seligman found an optimistic explanatory style is a trainable skill rather than being an inherent trait.
  • Hope, like optimism, is a positive feeling and a motivational state about the future, but it involves one’s beliefs about themselves and their actions in relation to their desired outcomes.
  • In 2006, Patricia Bruininks & Bertram F. Malle carried out three studies to look into the conceptual and psychological differences between six future-oriented states: hope, optimism, want, desire, wish, and joy. Overall, they found, “hope is most closely related to wishing but distinct from it. Most important, hope is distinct from optimism by being an emotion, representing more important but less likely outcomes, and by affording less personal control.”
  • In more recent research to study if hope is different from optimism, Simon Bury, Michael Wenzel, & Lydia Woodyatt found “Hope is distinct from optimism and positive expectation; hope is tapped into when odds are low yet individuals are highly invested in the outcome.”

An example to understand how they are different:

  • When someone plans an outdoor picnic and finds the weather forecast sunny and warm, they will optimistically expect the weather to cooperate.
  • But if the forecast is for cloudy with a chance of rain, the person may give in to hoping the weather will cooperate (and pack rain-gear) but may not be optimistic about it.

A quote to understand the difference between the two:

Optimism and hope are not the same. Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better.

— Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility

What Does Optimism And Hope Mean In Positive Psychology

Though both hope and optimism are positive motivational states, and both involve favorable expectations of desired outcomes in the future, there are some significant differences.

  • Hope and optimism are both studied in positive psychology, appearing as the VIA Strength of Hope and Optimism. They are both quite important features of psychological health. And both emerge from a combination of genetic, environmental, cultural, and historical factors.
  • Peterson & Seligman, 2001, in their classification of character strengths, grouped together hope and optimism as one trait. Download the VIA Classification here.
  • An understanding of hope is important to find out more about basic human responses as goal-setting, commitment, coping, and change. (Averill, 1994).
  • According to Scheier and Carver, 1985, optimism is the generalized expectancy that the future will be positive.
  • Hope and optimism are part of our cognitive, emotional, and motivational outlooks toward the future, both featuring beliefs that good events will outweigh bad events in the future. (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
  • Hope and optimism are often used interchangeably in the scientific literature (Gottschalk, 1974; Maier, Peterson, Schwartz, 2000)
  • A study titled Hope and optimism as related to life satisfaction, published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found “that believing one can achieve goals overall leads to increased well-being above believing in one’s ability to generate means to overcome obstacles.”

The positive thing is you can learn to increase both your hope and optimism levels, and get other parts of your life to work better.

  • Raising optimism can raise your resilience and help cope better with hardships.
  • Raising hope can place you in a better position to reach your goals and to strengthen your grit.

Now, even when popular wisdom says hope and optimism are overlapping and similar, and both could get influenced by genetics, upbringing, and environment, psychological science suggests they are two distinct ideas.

What Is Hope

Hope is a feeling related to motivation. When you’re hopeful, you are more likely to have faith that you can reach your goals. To hope is to motivate ourselves to use and grow our abilities to fulfill our desires.

Hope: A positive feeling and a state of motivation that arises from the beliefs that one has agency (power) and pathways (means) to achieve one’s goals.

According to David Hume, hope is a mixture of two different emotions — pain and pleasure. According to the belief-desire model, hope consists of two elements — a desire for something, and a belief that the desire will likely come to fruition.

Charles Snyder, the father of Hope Theory, felt that hope includes certain goals and practical pathways to reach those goals for a better future.

Snyder wrote:

Hope is defined as the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways.

According to Snyder and his collaborators, people with “high hope” have positive illusions. They have a positive view of their realities, possibilities, and opportunities.

Whereas people with “low hope” suffer from a distortion of their reality, as well as harbor denial and repression.

Research by Snyder and colleagues show hope can make ill people feel better, improve their mood, strengthen their motivation to undergo treatment, and may even increase the chance that treatments are successful.

#Hope is not just wishing. Hope is an emotion that occurs when you focus on a positive outcome, and then you follow it through with an action plan. Click To Tweet

Types of Hope

According to Julie Neraas, Associate Professor at Hamline University, and author of Apprenticed To Hope: A Sourcebook for Difficult Times, there are 7 types of hope.

  1. Inborn Hope: This is the kind of hope children are born with naturally, and it’s their basic disposition unless adults threaten it.
  2. Chosen Hope: This is type of hope in which you choose to believe in the best positive result out of all possibilities.
  3. Borrowed Hope: It’s another person hoping the best for you, and you become hopeful of yourself borrowing their hope for you.
  4. Bargainer’s Hope: It’s the kind of hope we bargain for when facing a daunting challenge, or when a crisis crashes into our life.
  5. Unrealistic Hope: This kind of hope is hoping for far-fetched, unlikely, and improbable things to happen.
  6. Mature Hope: This type of hope is based on on an understanding that however things turn out, they are worthwhile.
  7. False Hope: This is built around a magical wish or a fantasy. It results from a distortion of reality.
False Hope? There's No Such Thing | Charlie Teo | TEDxSydney
Is There A Thing As False Hope?

Research On Hope

Hope has a stable individual difference. People with high hopes more often think about the different and specific ways to reach their goals and are more frequent in telling themselves they can achieve their goals.

study by psychologists ar the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine in Chicago tried to find whether these two are really interchangeable or different.

The researcher team of Drew Fowler, Emily Weber, Scott Klappa, and Steven A. Miller started with trying to replicate two previous studies – a 2004 study which found these two to be separate, and a 2009 study which found both of these to be similar, and part of a “goal attitude”.

They recruited 417 participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) living in the United States for the study, comprising 78% Caucasians, 6% African Americans, 6% Hispanics, and 6% Asians.

The researchers employed the 12-item Adult Hope Scale developed by psychologist Rick Snyder to measure hope, and the Life Orientation Test (LOT-R) to measure optimism.

They confirmed what we already knew: While hope and optimism had overlapping features, each was also unique.

The study authors wrote:

The findings of this study suggest hope and optimism may be simultaneously intrinsic to each other, as well as contain unique properties on their own. It is our interpretation that this flexibility may aid individuals employing these factors to achieve their goals, or when expecting some outcome in their future.

How To Hope so it works out in your favor? Find Out Here.

What Is Optimism

Optimism is more akin your expectations for the future. When you’re optimistic, you’re likely to believe what you hope for will eventually happen.

Optimism: The extent to which people expect their desired outcomes to happen in future, and expect their undesired outcomes to not occur.

Michael Scheier and Charles Carver in 1985 defined optimism as:

A generalized expectancy that good… outcomes will generally occur when confronted with problems across important life domains.

The global generalized tendency to believe that one will generally experience good versus bad outcomes in life.

Another way psychology defines optimism is via the ‘explanatory style’. This is the approach given by Martin Seligman, the father of the Modern Positive Psychology.

Martin Seligman says,

The basis of optimism does not lie in positive phrases or images of victory, but in the way you think about causes.

Optimism in a simple a sentence is the attitude of looking at the bright side of things.

Types of Optimism

Optimism has been classified into many types. Here we briefly mention six types:

  1. Comparative Optimism: This means believing you’re more likely to encounter positive events as compared to others.
  2. Nihilistic Optimism: They believe life doesn’t come with any inbuilt meaning, and it is up to them to find and create a meaningful life for themselves.
  3. Realistic Optimism: If you have this type of optimism, then you are known to take healthy and balanced risks while looking to reach a positive future outcome.
  4. Unrealistic Optimism: Those who are unrealistically optimistic tend to think the scales are always greatly tilted in their favor. This leads them to take potentially riskier and unsafe decisions that are far removed from reality.
  5. Dispositional Optimism: This is the global expectation that more desirable things will happen in future than undesirable things.
  6. Philosophical Optimism: This is the belief the present moment is the best out of all possible future outcomes.

Research On Optimism

Research by Martin Seligman, Father of Modern Positive Psychology, on optimism led him to the finding that an optimistic explanatory style protected against depression resulting from learned helplessness.

A person’s explanatory style is the way they usually engage in explaining life events, by attributing them to underlying causes in terms of:

  1. Internality  – taking the wrong events or results personally
  2. Stability  – thinking and believing it will last for a long time
  3. Globality  – assuming it has all-pervasive effects on their life

The people with a pessimistic explanatory style think of the causes of their life events as internal (“it’s my fault”), stable (“it’s something that’s going to be forever”), and global (“it’s going to affect everything I try to do”).

While those with an optimistic explanatory style think the opposite way, as the cause of an event in their lives is due to external factors, it is temporary, and it does not involve all aspects of their lives.

Seligman often found the difference between people who give up when facing adversity and those who persevere under the same restrictive conditions, is the way they explain bad and good events. This is the hallmark of resilient people.

Is Hoping And Expecting The Same Thing

No, hoping and expecting is not the same. Hoping means a desire for something to happen, with an expectation to work for it. Expecting means an act of foreseeing or foretelling an event. Positive expectation is similar to optimism.

Self-fulfilling prophecy (SFP) is a phenomenon explored in psychology in which an expectation causes an event to occur.

Here’s how SFP became a marketing blitzkrieg called The Secret and The Law of Attraction.

Final Words

According to research, Those who are high on optimism and hope fare better at handling uncertainty. They are naturally less afraid of the unknown.

Now, one question we would like you to find an answer to is:

What do you call it when a person buys a lottery ticket and fantasizes about winning a lot of money?

We close this with what Fowler and team concluded:

The use of these different strategies may suggest that hope and optimism, like musical instruments, can be enjoyed on their own, but can create an even more powerful impact when they harmonize together.


How To Build Resilience:

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.


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