Optimism and hope are very similar concepts in some ways. Essentially, developing optimism and hope both depend on having or developing a positive attitude. So, attitude is the main idea that joins these two concepts.
There is a subtle difference between optimism and hope though. Optimism is more about the present, the right now. Hope looks more toward the future — an hour from now or tomorrow or two months or years down the road.
There are 2 important aspects to being hopeful that researchers have found lead to a better sense of well-being. The first aspect is planning or goal setting and the second is finding the silver lining.
Planning for the Future/Goal Setting
“The perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and the ability to motivate oneself to use these pathways to reach goals” (Snyder, 2000).
In other words, part of having hope is being able to make goals, set plans, and believe you will achieve them. Snyder, one of the key researchers in this area, also believes that hopeful people maintain their goals, even when they experience setbacks or difficult circumstances. High-hope people believe they can adapt to let-downs and loss:
“Hopeful people maintain their pathways and agency thought under normal circumstances, but especially when they are confronted with impediments”
Planning or goal setting and having some expectation that you can achieve these goals is part of what it means to be hopeful. We know that a sense of achievement or accomplishment creates positive feelings for us. Just think about how you feel when you’ve finally done that thing that you’ve been putting off for days. You say, “I did it!” There is a sense of accomplishment and accompanying good feelings. That’s what setting some goals for ourselves can do for us.
Goal setting takes a bit of work and some practice. There are a few steps involved in setting goals.
Develop clear workable goals
Brainstorm options for routes to achieve those goals
Consider pros and cons of the different routes
Choose one route or course of action. Use imagery to reach goals (envision the plan in action)
Evaluate outcome — return to 1, 2, or 3 depending on outcome
Goal Setting Example
To show you how this works, we’ll take an example and work it through. Let’s say I want to get into better physical shape. How could I go about that?
“Better physical shape” is not a very clear goal. I need to decide if I’m talking about strength, cardiovascular fitness, nutrition, or some combination of all three. Because I want my goal to be specific, I’m going to focus on cardiovascular fitness. I can make it more specific by saying I want to go for a 30-minute walk 5 times a week. This goal is now quite clear. Then I need to ask myself if it is workable. If I haven’t been exercising for a few years, it is likely unworkable to expect myself to start walking for 30 minutes, 5 times a week. It would be more workable to set my goal to begin walking 10 minutes, 5 times a week, and gradually build up my endurance.
Let’s say I want to walk outside. I could walk before I went to work, incorporate walking into my commute to work, walk at noon hour, or walk after work. I could walk by myself or with a partner. If walking inside is an option, I could walk on a treadmill at a gym or at the local mall’s walking circuit. Thus, even with a goal as simple as walking for 30-minutes 5 times a week, there are many different routes to the same goal.
Now I need to evaluate the pros and cons of each possible route. For example, imagine that my friend, Sheila, says she wants to be my walking partner. If I know that my friend Sheila is very unreliable, and will rarely actually come with me, it might be more discouraging to have her as a walking partner than to go myself. If I am considering walking in the evening, but know that I often have other activities at that time, I may be wise to choose a morning time instead. Your chance of success will be much greater if you consider the pros and cons of possible routes to your goal, and choose the route with the most positives.
I decide that my course of action is to walk for 30 minutes, Monday to Friday, and give myself the weekend off. I decide to walk by myself, and to incorporate that walking time into my commute to work.
Now I take some time to visualize my walk. I see myself getting up, getting ready for work, finding my walking shoes, and going out the door. I see myself walking along the sidewalk or the trail, enjoying the fresh air. I anticipate how good my body will feel when I arrive at work refreshed by the walk. These types of positive images help us to look forward to the positive/hopeful aspects of setting a goal and attaining it.
A few weeks later, I pause to evaluate my progress toward my goal. I find that I have walked to work most days, except it seems to be very difficult to walk on Wednesdays, because I have an early morning meeting. I decide to change my routine, and take Wednesday off, and walk on Sundays with a reliable friend. Otherwise I’m quite pleased with my progress, and declare it a success.
Finding the Silver Lining
Looking for good in the negative experiences of life can range from finding one good event in a relatively “bad day” at work, to finding a positive aspect in a traumatic experience. Building this capacity for hope can help us to move to a world view that includes positive events and experiences.
“If one can learn to identify something good in a bad experience, then finding the one positive element in life’s more mundane situations becomes easier,
It is important to remember that, particularly in tragic/traumatic events, finding the silver lining is not about minimizing how terrible a situation or event was. Awful things happen and finding the silver lining is not about saying “Oh, just look on the bright side.” Looking for the silver lining, in fact, is taking the next step – the step after we acknowledge how awful the situation is. When we experience something negative in our lives we need to do two things:
We need to acknowledge how awful the situation is — by identifying the losses, or how your life has now changed in ways that you did not want. We also need to acknowledge the negative emotions that are created because of it — the hurt, pain, and fear (or whatever those emotions are for you). We need to honour those emotions by feeling and experiencing them. It is only then that we can move to the next step to working it through.
Look for the silver lining — try to find something positive in a very negative situation or event. You might look for the silver lining by asking yourself — is there anything positive that came from this? Now, finding something positive does not mean that you’re glad this awful thing happened. Not at all. Of course you would wish it hadn’t happened. But, given that it has, what is there within the awfulness that you can take from it. You might want to ask yourself — is there anything that I have learned? Have I learned anything about life? About living through this hardship? Have I learned anything about me that I didn’t know before? Can I see this in a new way?
An example of finding the silver lining can be found in a research study by Affleck, et al. (1987). Of 287 men who had heart attacks, about half of them found something beneficial in their experience (e.g., changing life philosophy, value, healthy lifestyles, more life enjoyment). Those who found some benefit from their near-death experiences, had less disability and were less likely to experience another heart attack over eight years later.
Hope is an important component that can improve our mind, body and spirit health!
Low hope people are more likely to suffer from depression.
High hope people believe that they can adapt.
High hope people experience improved physical and psychological well-being.