Research shows there’s a difference between optimism and being hopeful

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What exactly is hope? How do you “become” hopeful? An ASU study takes a deeper look into the Science of Hope and what it can do for people’s lives. John Parsi, the Executive Director of the Hope Center, spoke to us about the research on hope. 

What is “hope”?

“Think of it as “GPA”: goals, pathways and agency. Goals is the goal setting process its future orientation. Pathway, figuring out the way to get to your destination, to your goal. The agency is willpower, having the energy, the motivation, the personal will to work on getting to your goal. Those are the kind of three characteristics of what it would comprise as hope,” Parsi said.

The old analogy of a glass of water, an optimist would look at a glass of water and say it’s half full, a hopeful person would look at a glass of water and say, well, we need more water, what do I need to do to get more water into this glass and so it’s an active rather than a passive process.

Optimism and being hopeful are two different things. Optimism may be more harmful.

A person with optimistic thinking may be under the impression to, ” ‘smile even through hardships’, it says, ‘no matter what’s going on in life when negative emotions you may have no matter how difficult things are always smile always be positive always put up that front, that things are going to be better tomorrow,'” Parsi said.

But when someone is “hopeful” they, “…assess the reality of that emotional situation; things are difficult, particularly coming out of a global pandemic, things may be difficult for a lot of people and it’s okay to acknowledge that but as part of that process. What we do is set goals, engage in that agency and pathway thinking to achieve those goals. In doing so, because it’s an active process, we don’t deny any of those negative emotions or negative feelings we acknowledge them, we see those as obstacles on our path,” Parsi said.

Parsi said that a good first step to becoming more “hopeful” is, “…to engage in a small goal set” and build more goals from there.

John Parsi, Executive Director of the Hope Center

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