Optimism vs Hope: Types And Differences

hope vs optimism

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?

Optimism And Hope

The Oxford English Dictionary defines optimism as “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something; a tendency to take a favourable or hopeful view.” And hope as the “expectation of something desired; desire combined with expectation.”

Here are the differences:

  • Hope is depends on event-specific situations; optimism does not depend on external situations.
  • Hope is a state of mind, like a feeling or an emotion; optimism is a natural mental outlook, like an attitude or a trait.
  • Hope is more about one’s ability to go through with an action plan to reach the goal they are hoping for; optimism is more about one’s positive expectations about an event; one does not necessarily needs to work for it.

Hope and optimism are both studied in positive psychology, appearing as the VIA Strength of Hope and Optimism. They are important features of psychological health. Both emerge from a combination of genetic, environmental, cultural, and historical factors.

Hope and optimism are part of our cognitive, emotional, and motivational outlooks toward future, both featuring beliefs that good events will outweigh bad events in future. (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).

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

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

What Is Hope In Positive Psychology

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.

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 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.

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.

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. False Hope: This is built around a magical wish or a fantasy. It results from a distortion of reality.
  7. Mature Hope: This type of hope is based on on an understanding that however things turn out, they are worthwhile.
Is There A Thing As False Hope?

What Is Optimism In Positive Psychology

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.
Optimistic Nihilism: What’s That?

Hope vs Optimism: The Differences

In psychology, while both are positive states and linked to positive mental health, the 3 main ways hope differs from optimism is below:

Hope vs Optimism

1.Hope is event-specific and depends on situationsOptimism is event-independent and does not depend on external situations
2.Hope is a state of mind, like a feeling or an emotionOptimism is a natural mental outlook, like an attitude or a trait
3.Hope is more about one’s ability to go through with an action plan to reach the goal they are hoping forOptimism is more about one’s positive expectations about an event; one does not necessarily need to work for it
Table: Hope vs 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:

  • internality,
  • stability, and
  • globality.

The people with 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 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 found often 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.

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 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 future, but it involves one’s beliefs about themselves and their actions in relation to thier desired outcomes.

Hope is also seen as a stable individual difference. People with high hopes more often think about the different and clearly specific ways to reach their goals, and more frequent in telling themselves they can achieve their goals.

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.

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.

Final Words

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.

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.

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.

[If want to know how to hope scientifically so that it works out in your favor, then you must read this!]

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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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