We often talk of hope and optimism as a stand-in word for each other. But, is there any difference? And if there is, then how are they dissimilar?
Now, even when popular wisdom says they are similar, psychology suggests they are two distinct ideas. Both could be influenced in part by your genetics, and in part your upbringing and environment.
Hope: A Quick Refresher
Hope is a feeling related to motivation. When you’re hopeful, you’re more likely to have faith you can reach your goals. To hope is to motivate ourselves to use and grow our abilities so as to fulfill our desires.
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 be fulfilled.
Charles Snyder, the father of Hope Theory felt hope includes certain goals and practical pathways to reach those goals for a better future.
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.
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.
- Inborn Hope: This is the kind of hope children are born with naturally, and it’s their basic disposition unless adults threaten it.
- Chosen Hope: This is type of hope in which you choose to believe in the best positive result out of all possibilities.
- Borrowed Hope: It’s another person hoping the best for you, and you become hopeful of yourself borrowing their hope for you.
- 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.
- Unrealistic Hope: This kind of hope is hoping for far-fetched, unlikely, and improbable things to happen.
- False Hope: This is built around a magical wish or a fantasy. It results from a distortion of reality.
- Mature Hope: This type of hope is based on on an understanding that however things turn out, they are worthwhile.
Optimism: A Quick Refresher
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 is looking at the bright side of things.
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.
Types of Optimism
Optimism has been classified into many types. Here we briefly mention six types:
- Comparative Optimism: This means believing you’re more likely to encounter positive events as compared to others.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Dispositional Optimism: This is the global expectation that more desirable things will happen in future than undesirable things.
- Philosophical Optimism: This is the belief the present moment is the best out of all possible future outcomes.
Optimism vs Hope: The Differences
While both are positive states and linked to positive mental health, the way one differs from another is:
- hope is event-specific, and depends on situations,
- optimism does not depend on external situations.
- hope is a state of mind, like feeling or an emotion,
- optimism is a natural mental outlook, like an attitude.
- hope is more about your ability to go through with an action plan to reach the goal you’re hoping for,
- optimism is more about your positive expectations about an event; you don’t necessarily need to work for it.
A study by psychologists at Chicago’s Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine 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 United States for the study, comprising 78% Caucasians, 6% African Americans, 6% Hispanics, and 6% Asians.
They confirmed what we already knew: While hope and optimism had overlapping features, each was also unique.
The 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.
The great thing is you can learn to increase both your hope and optimism levels. Raising optimism will raise your resilience and help cope better with hardships. Raising hope will place you at a better position to reach your goals and raise your grit.
Those who are high on optimism and hope have been found to fare better at handling uncertainty. They are naturally less afraid of the unknown.
We close this with what Fowler and team concluded:
[Do you want to know how to hope so that it works out in your favor? Then you must read this!]
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.
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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.
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