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Hope and Optimism

Positive Emotion Image Map

Martin Seligman’s twenty years of research on optimism started when he found that an optimistic explanatory style worked against helplessness. Seligman found that often the difference between people who give up in the face of adversity and people who persevere is how people explain bad events and good events. Seligman found that an optimistic explanatory style is not an inherent trait, but rather a trainable skill (hence the name of Seligman’s book “Learned Optimism”). Additionally, Sandra Schneider defines realistic optimism as the tendency to select positive interpretations whenever one has interpretational latitude.

Furthermore, “optimism” is used not only to describe an explanatory style, but especially colloquially it is used to describe the “half-full” glass person, who – it is often implied – was born this way. Optimism as a trait is also studied in positive psychology, and appears as the VIA Strength of Hope and Optimism. Hope and optimism are both part of our cognitive, emotional, and motivational stances toward the future, indicating a belief that future good events will outweigh bad events (Peterson & Seligman, 2004, p. 572).

According to Rick Snyder’s Hope Theory, hope is a process of goal-directed thought that reflects both the belief that one can find pathways to the goal and has motivation based on one’s perceived capabilities, or agency thinking.

Optimism is one of the qualities that meet the criteria for inclusion in the Luthans, Youssef, and Avolio psychological capital model.

PPND articles on Hope and Optimism
Doug Turner
By Doug Turner:
Responding Well

Restoring Hope

Learning Optimism

Kathryn Britton
By Kathryn Britton:

Sustainability: From Denial and Depression to Hope and Personal Responsibility

Dave ShearonBy Dave Shearon:

The Perils of Pollyanna
Optimists in Law School
Sure They’ll Think You’re Smart. But Will They Want to Work for You?
Psychological Capital – PsyCap

Bridget Grenville-CleaveBy Bridget Grenville-Cleave:

Music and Songs: The Sounds of Hope?

Other resources for Hope and Optimism

Peterson, C. & Steen, T. (2005). Optimistic explanatory style. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez, Handbook of Positive Psychology, pp. 244-265. Oxford University Press.Snyder, C. R. (2005).

Hope theory: A member of the positive psychology family. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez, Handbook of Positive Psychology, pp. 257-276. Oxford University Press.

Snyder, C. R. (2000). Handbook of hope: Theory, measures, and applications. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Fred Luthans

Luthans, F., Youssef, C., & Avolio, B. (2006). Psychological capital: Developing the human competitive edge. Oxford University Press.

Check out Dave Shearon’s review of this book.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness. New York: Penguin Press.


Happiness activity 3 is Cultivating Optimism (pp. 101-111).

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues. Oxford University Press. PP. 569-582.

Chapter 25 describes Hope [Optimism, Future-mindedness, Future Orientation] as a character strength. The chapter includes a discussion of deliberate interventions to develop the strength, enabling and inhibiting factors, cross-cultural differences, and measurements.

“Contemporary approaches also assume that this strength entails a belief about agency: the notion that good events can be made more likely and bad events less by appropriate actions on the part of the individual.” (P. 572).

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press.Seligman, M. E. P. (2006).

Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life.. Updated edition with new preface. New York: Vintage Press.

Schneider, S. (2001). In search of realistic optimism: Meaning, knowledge, and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist. 56, 3, 250-263.For those who have trouble finding it directly, here’s a short summary.  

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