Hope is one of the 24 character strengths as identified by VIA.  Its also known as optimism, future-mindedness and future orientation. It is defined by VIA as ‘expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about.’

There are three variants of this strength, as found in the psychological literature:

Is the glass half empty or half full? The pess...

Is the glass half empty or half full? The pessimist would pick half empty, while the optimist would choose half full. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(dispositional) Optimism is a general feeling that good things will happen to oneself. It’s a generalized expectancy about the future and is not tied to any specific task or goal in particular. It is a general feeling of confidence and is related to the outcome expectancy that energizes behavior while pursuing a challenge or solving a problem and results in persistence. Pessimists on the other hand are doubtful and hesitant in goal pursuit and this gets exacerbated in times of adversity. While optimists are confident of their ability to handle adversity one way or the other, pessimists tend to catastrophize.

Optimists are more likely to feel excitement and eagerness when confronted with adversity and have overall positive affect; while pessimists are more likely to feel negative emotions like guilt, despair, anger, anxiety and sadness when confronted with adversity.Optimists are confident in their ability to handle adversity and thus expend effort and energy in facing the adversity, while pessimists may indulge in wishful thinking – that getting distracted perhaps or closing their eyes – will make the adversity disappear and may stop expending effort.

Optimists are likely to use problem-focused coping (aimed at doing something about the stressor itself to blunt its impact) when in control; and use positive reframing, or accept the reality of situation, when not in control. Even in situations not under control, optimists use emotion focused coping (aimed at soothing distress) like seeing the silver lining in the cloud and learning from the bad situation. Pessimists are likely to use denial or distance themselves from the situation or use substance abuse as a means of escape.  Optimists engage with the situations while pessimist try to avoid the situations/ stressors.

Optimism has many psychological health benefits too; for eg. it helps you fight postpartum depression, and leads to lowered distress in wide ranging health conditions from lowering of pre and postoperative coronary surgery distress, to less suffering from cancer, or less distress in a caregiver caring for a person with cancer.Pessimism or hopelessness, on the other hand, rather than depression, is a stronger predictor of suicide.

Optimism is also related to behaviors that lead to more health promoting behaviors and that reduce health risks. Optimists also have better physical health and immunity and even longevity. Optimists are more likeable and thus have better social circles and networks as they use a positive problem focused approach to relationships too.

Optimism is moderately inheritable (25%), especially given its association with inheritable traits like neuroticism and extraversion, and is thus prtly in your genes. Also, it has been suggested that optimism develops as a result of early childhood experiences be it a secure attachment or development of ‘basic trust’ as per Erikson’s stages. However, optimism can be developed. Cognitive behavioral therapies intend to do so by changing the underlying thought patterns.

And that brings us to optimistic explanatory styles. While dispositional optimism is all about expectancies for the future, optimistic explanatory style grounds those expectancies into how we habitually interpret past success and failures.

One has an optimistic explanatory style when one makes stable, personal and global attributions for good events and learns to make temporary and specific attributions for negative past experiences. Pessimistic explanatory style on the other hand is when one makes stable and global, personal attributions for negative past events and experiences. Optimists have a flexible explanatory style, while that of pessimists is more rigid.

I will do a separate post on learned optimism and CBT which is related to this concept of optimistic and pessimistic explanatory styles. bI will focus more on dispositional optimism and Hope.

Hope as per the framework used by Snyder has three components: the goals that are clearly conceptualized, important to self and direct one’s future orientation;  agency or a belief in one’s ability to  take the first step and reach the goals despite inevitable obstacles, and pathways or the ability to come up with alternate paths and strategies to achieve the goal, if obstacles are encountered.

Hopeful people have learning goals and are mastery oriented, while those low in hope have performance goals and have a helpless orientation. Having hope means that one can think of many alternate paths to achieve the goal and is thus focussed on success and having learning goals. High hope also entails much enthusiasm and energy while pursuing goals and leads to positive affectivity; while being low in hope correlates with negative affectivity characterized by worry, negative thoughts and dissatisfaction with self.

There is another conceptualization of hope especially in medical settings. Hope, as per Herth, has three components: The cognitive–temporal dimension taps into “the perception that the desired outcome is realistically probable,” whereas the affective–behavioral dimension refers to “a feeling of confidence with the initiation of plans” to achieve the desired goals.  Affiliative–contextual dimension refers to the “recognition of the interconnectedness between self and others and between self and spirit”. As such, this dimension can also be thought of as an interpersonal connectedness and spiritual dimension. Essentially, it contains items related to perceived social support, perceived spiritual support, and a sense of meaning and belongingness. Thus the concept of hope can be elaborated to include a social/ spiritual dimension too.

Hope is measured using Adult hope Scale, Life Orientation test , Herth Hope scale etc. Hope/Optimism as measured by these scales has been found to correlate with important life outcomes.

Optimism and pessimism, or hope and hopelessness, are moderately correlated, but different constructs. Thus someone high in optimism may not necessarily be low in pessimism; more practically, the correlates of life outcomes due to high optimism may not be same as those for low pessimism. Optimism is more strongly related to extraversion and positive affect and pessimism is more strongly related to neuroticism and negative affect.

Hope is correlated with perceived competence, self-esteem and perceived purpose in life; low hope is also correlated with depression and anxiety. The low hope anxiety relationship is mediated by inability to learn from failure and the non realization of utility of efforts/ new strategies to achieve valued outocmes. High hope is also related to higher creativity and problem solving abilities thus leading to higher academic performance.

Hope is also social; high hope people are socially competent,enjoy getting to know others, getting to know their interests, and more frequently interact with others. Low-Hope people on the other hand ruminate, get frustrated and are aggressive in their goal pursuit and struggle interpersonally.

Hope builds resilience. The agency component of hope buffers against future depression / anxiety symptoms.

Hope and perseverance are closely related and many interventions increase both; hope is correlated to perseverance as well as bravery in individuals.

Some of the interventions that have found emperical validity and have resonted with me are :

  • Best possible self
  • One door closes, another door opens
  • Hope letter
  • WOOP exercise

Hope this was useful!

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