According to 20 years of scientific research conducted by positive psychology founder Martin Seligman, hope reduces feelings of helplessness, boosts happiness, reduces stress, and improves the quality of life 
Hopeful people can face even the worst times with a positive attitude. That’s why hope is one of the most important personality qualities, along with being spiritual.
Plus, there are many health benefits of hope. For instance, it significantly improves our mental health. Because it provides positivity, it helps us through handle stress and anxiety.
In a moment we will look at the reasons why hope is important in life. But first, let’s look at what hope is.
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What is hope
To be hopeful is to look at the future positively and to see opportunity in challenges, rather than challenges in opportunities. In other words, it means to “look on the bright side of life.”
It is the ability to see the possible good in future events, especially when those events are potentially detrimental. Indeed, positive psychology researcher Barbara Frederickson says hope “opens us up” and allows us to focus on the positive. Of course, the opposite of hope is despair and dejection. And these have terrible health consequences.
Desmond Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness,” which I personally think is a beautiful definition of hope.
What it is NOT (“Blind Hope”):
Hope is not blindly expecting positive things to fall into your lap. Nor is it hoping that you will magically avoid every potential danger. To clarify, hope isn’t wishing. That’s blind hope, which can lead to inadvertent harm (for instance, not going to the doctor about a pain in your chest because you’re blindly optimistic everything will be okay).
Many people have a negative view of hope because of “false hope” and “blind hope”. People often think that hopeful people are naive, even foolish, and that they believe good things will happen when in truth they never will.
Heck, many of my own friends think I am naïve and foolish for pouring countless hours into this website in the hope that it might someday pay off big time. Arguably, it might not pay off. So, is that hope or stupidity? It can be hard to tell.
Furthermore, dictionary definitions of hope also use words like “anticipation”, “excitement” and “faith”, but these aren’t really the same as hope.
Hope is about positive beliefs when we have a clear goal in mind. It’s about a belief that we can overcome challenges, adversity, and hostility.
Why hope is important in life
Researchers and philosophers often debate whether it is better to be realistic, optimistic, or pessimistic. After all, all those traits have pros and cons. But we do know for certain that hope is excellent for our health and happiness.
Indeed, hope is considered one of the essential qualities in life. Other essential qualities include:
Positive characteristics like these are good for our health. For instance, consider these benefits of being hopeful:
- Helps support mental strength and happiness
- Makes you wake up feeling positive.
- Helps you control your emotions
- Improves general health
- Reduces stress
- Reduces joint pain (pessimism causes stress which makes us hold the body in ways that produce pressure, worsening joint pain)
- Improves respiration
- Is essential for self-worth
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves social relationships
- Motivates positive action that leads to real-life success.
- Helps strengthen the immune system [Donna Lou Udelman PhD, FPM, FOA from the journal Stress & Health]
- Improves social relationships (you’ll make more friends as an optimist according to Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., & Holleran, S. A. (1991) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) (SOURCE)
- Makes you happy
- Broadens and builds your mind
- Leads to courage, confidence, and self-efficacy.
Of course, one of the main reasons why hope is important is that life will kick you in the butt if you let it.
We all face setbacks. We all wonder at times whether we will survive. And sadly, most of us know what it’s like to feel like you’re right on the brink of disaster. If you are negative at these difficult times, you will face stress, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.
In one study, researchers studied the effect of hope on college students. Results showed that a hopeful mindset leads to better grades. [Matthew W Gallagher, University of Houston, Journal of Happiness Studies 2017].
Students with elevated levels of optimism are more likely to succeed at school, more likely to have high-quality friendships, and less likely to suffer anxiety and depression. Why?
When you are optimistic you are more willing to work hard to create success. Optimistic students study harder because they believe they can succeed. And because of this, they achieve higher results than students with low levels of hope.
Hope is the motivating factor
When you do not believe your work will pay off (when you’re hopeless) you quite logically won’t try very hard.
Imagine going to the gym every day genuinely thinking that you will never be fit. What a downer. Now imagine being optimistic that you will end up looking and feeling amazing. That positivity would make you genuinely want to workout harder, and as a result, you will be more likely to succeed in your goal.
The opposite of hope is hopelessness. And this is a serious threat to health and happiness. I learned this for myself during a hard time of my life.
For six months, my life felt hopeless
I was living in Canada, thousands of miles away from home with no family and very few friends. I went through a break-up. It rocked me to the core. I was incredibly pessimistic at the time. Homeless, I thought it was the end. And because I was so pessimistic, I suffered emotional trauma. I went through depression.
That time cost me a lot, in terms of my health. I suffered a severe stress reaction, had chronic eczema (caused by stress), and spent most of my time thinking all manner of terrible thoughts.
It could have been avoided. I could have chosen to have faith and to be positive, to believe that everything would come right in the end and that I would land back on my feet, which I eventually did.
Had I been optimistic I would have saved myself a great deal of mental suffering.
Maybe you’ve been through a similar time of hopelessness. And if so, I’m sure it affected you greatly.
Hope is a safeguard.
Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going”. Hope gives you the strength to keep going.
Hope Equals Motivation
The most hopeful people in the world are also some of the most motivated.
If you were completely hopeless, you wouldn’t bother to even attempt to do anything positive because… well, you’ll fail, right? So why would you even bother? Without hope, it all seems so utterly pointless.
Hope gives you motivation. It’s the voice inside that says, “Yes, you can.” It’s that voice that makes you work hard, that makes you learn new things, and gives you the impetus to try.
- In Hope Theory, which is a psychological theory of hope, it’s believed that when we are optimistic we are given the motivation to make positive choices and to take positive actions that will move us along the path to success. A lot of research backs this claim. But forget the science. We can all feel, inside, what it is like to be hopeful and why it matters so much.
How Hopeful Are You? Complete “The Hope Scale”
Psychologist Charles R. Snyder devised a way to measure how much hope someone has. He called it the Hope Scale.
Take the test below to discover your own rating:
(Text version of test)
Answer these questions from 1 to 8. 1 is for “absolutely false”. 8 is for “absolutely true”.
- I can think of many ways to get out of a jam.
___ 2. I energetically pursue my goals.
___ 3. I feel tired most of the time.
___ 4. There are lots of ways around any problem.
___ 5. I am easily downed in an argument.
___ 6. I can think of many ways to get the things in life that are important to me.
___ 7. I worry about my health.
___ 8. Even when others get discouraged, I know I can find a way to solve the problem.
___ 9. My past experiences have prepared me well for my future.
___10. I’ve been pretty successful in life.
___11. I usually find myself worrying about something.
___12. I meet the goals that I set for myself.
- Add-up your scores for questions 1,2,3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 12.
- Subtract your responses to questions 7 and 11
- Total is out of 80. 0 = Totally without hope. 80 = Very hopeful
- Items 2, 9, 10, and 12 make up the agency subscale. These are about believing in where you’ve been and where you’re going.
- Items 1, 4, 6, and 8 make up the pathway subscale. These questions are about being able to see ways to succeed and ways to avoid failure.
Are you hopeful
This test will tell you how hopeful you are, but it will also tell you where you need improvement.
For instance, lots of people meet the goals that they set themselves (question 12) but don’t energetically pursue their goals. If this is you, it could be a sign that you are not setting high enough goals (because you’re achieving your goals without the need to pursue them energetically).
Or you might find that you worry about your health, and other general worries and you don’t believe you are well prepared for the future. This is a classic sign of pessimism, so you might like to take some progressive steps to be more hopeful and less pessimistic.
Hope compared to other mental traits
Okay. So, we know that hope matters. But is it as important as other mental traits? For instance, spirituality. Is hope more or less important than spirituality? What about sense of humor? That’s important too. Perseverance is critical. And Fairness. I could go on.
How does hope compare to these other mental traits?
We know that hope is more important than self-efficacy (your belief in your ability). We know that because psychologists Philip R. Magaletta and J.M. Oliver measured the effects of both and compared them.
But it might not be as crucial as some other character strengths.
One study shows that when it comes to well-being, gratitude and love of learning are the most important personality traits. In another study, it was determined that to be in the military the most important character qualities are Leadership, Teamwork, and Open-Mindedness.
Nevertheless, hope matters, so how can you become more hopeful?
How to be more hopeful
Be Mindful of your Expectations
Whether you are an optimist or a devout pessimist, you will have certain expectations of the future. To begin developing hope, become aware of the fact that you choose the way you view the future. You can look on the bright side or the dark side. You can choose to be positive. Find the opportunities where you can turn pessimism into optimism.
Pessimists tend to think that looking on the negative side of things is being “realistic.” Somehow, it seems more realistic that things will turn out bad, but in reality, there’s no more self-deception in looking on the bright side than the dark side.
Think of something you feel pessimistic about. Whatever it is, you will know specific facts about it and have some uncertainties. Now consider how you are using those facts and uncertainties to falsely create a negative perspective How could you create a positive perspective instead?
Understand what causes pessimism
There are reasons for pessimism. More often than not, it’s because you are afraid to look positively at something and end up being hurt.
To counteract this, tell yourself that even if you do end up disappointed you will then turn that disappointment into a positive.
To illustrate this: imagine you’re awaiting your university exam results. You know you could pass, you know you could fail, but you’re going to choose to believe that you’ve failed simply to save yourself from disappointment (this is the pessimistic outlook).
You can, however, look optimistically and still avoid disappointment.
To do so, realise that you’ll likely pass the exam (optimism) but that even if you don’t you will turn failure into a positive, for instance by learning lessons from the experience that strengthen your character and set you up for future success (optimism that safeguards you from disappointment).
Seek awe and inspiration
Psychologist Dacher Keltner, PhD., states that being inspired and feeling awe can help produce positive emotions including hope. For instance, if you gaze up at the stars, or sit by the ocean, you can feel that sense of awe, and that can lead to hope.
Hope is good for health, happiness, and success. Research shows that optimistic people are more likely to live fulfilling lives and to enjoy life. Plus, by relieving stress, hope helps to reduce the risk of many of the leading causes of death (high blood pressure, heart attack etc.).