Hope is one of the most important mental traits in life. Without doubt, it is one of the most important traits of positive people.
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 our quality of life 
Hopeful people are able to face even the most negative times with a positive attitude. And because of the many health benefits of optimism, hope significantly improves our mental health.
In a moment I’ll share some amazing research that pinpoint the importance and benefits of hope.
But first, just what is hope, anyway?
A definition of hope
To be hopeful is to look on the future positively, to see opportunity in challenges (rather than challenges in opportunities), to “look on the bright side of life.”
Hope is the ability to see the possible good in future events, especially when those events are potentially negative.
With hope we can see the positive in negative times.
What hope is NOT:
Hope is not blindly expecting every positive thing to fall into your lap, nor expecting yourself to magically avoid every potential danger. This mentality can lead to inadvertent self harm (for instance, not going to the doctor about a pain in your chest because you’re blindly optimistic everything will be okay could potentially lead to your death).
It’s this idea of “false hope” or “blind hope” that has given hope a bad name in recent years.
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. Is that smart hope or stupid hope?I It can be hard to tell.
- Pro Tip: Don’t force hope. Don’t be fake-positive. Use mental contrasting instead.
Why hope is important in life
There’s a huge debate about what is better between realism, optimism and pessimism (read my article Become healthy through positivity).
Realism, optimism and pessimism all play an important role. And the debate is still undecided.
What we know for certain, however, is that hope benefits our health and happiness.
Psychological research proves that some attitudes are imperative in life.
- Compassion is so important in life that THE DAILY MEDITATION recommends going through compassion-training.
- Courageous people have an advantage too.
- And you need forgiveness.
But one of the most important strengths in life is hope.
Hope has been shown to:
- Make you wake up feeling positive.
- Hope helps you control your emotions
- Boosts your immune system
- Improves general health
- Reduces stress
- Reduces joint pain (pessimism causes stress which makes us hold the body in the ways that produce pressure, worsening joint pain)
- Improves respiration
- Hope is essential for creating self worth
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves social relationships
- Motivates positive action that leads to real life success.
- Hope motivates positive actions that will lead to positive results (SOURCE)
- Hope helps strengthen the immune system (SOURCE)
- Hope improves social relationships (you’ll get more friend being an optimist) (SOURCE)
- Hope makes you happy
- Hope broadens and builds your mind (for more on this read the work of Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology Barbara Fredricks)
Of course, one of the main reasons why hope is important is that life is hard and will kick you in the butt if you let it.
We all face setbacks. We all wonder at times whether we’re going to get by. We all know what it’s like to feel like you’re right on the brink of disaster. And many of us knows what happens when we are not hopeful at such times.
Research into the benefits of hope
Research proves how important hope is in life.
In one study, researchers looked into the affect that hope had on college students.
The research shows that hope is imperative to academic achievement [source]. Students with high levels of hope are more likely to succeed at school, more likely to have high quality friendships, and less likely to suffer anxiety and depression. It’s easy to see why. When you are hopeful that hard work will pay off, you are more likely to go the extra mile to succeed. Hopeful students put more time into studies 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 believing that you would never get fit. What a downer. Now imagine that you’re going to get the toned body, you’re going to look and feel amazing. That hope 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.
How my life turned awful when I lost hope
I previously wrote about how I lost all hope and had to fight to reclaim my self worth.
I learned the hard way. It was the worst time of my life. It was during a period of my life while I was living in Canada, thousands of miles away from home with no family and very few friends there.
I went through a break-up. And I was rocked to the core.
I lost hope.
Without a home, I thought it was the end. And because I did not have hope I suffered a lot, mentally. I went through depression. Fell to pieces.
For six months I was in utter despair. I was hopeless.
That time cost me a lot, in terms of my health. I suffered a severe stress reaction, had chronic eczema (caused from stress) and I spent most of my time thinking all manner of debilitating thoughts. It could have been avoided. I could have chosen to have hope, to believe that everything would come right in the end and that I would land back on my feet (which I eventually did). And had I thought like that 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 like a safe-guard. It tells you, even when you’re going through hell, that there is that light at the end of the tunnel.
Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going”. Hope gives you the strength to keep going.
Hope gives you motivation
The most hopeful people in the world are also the most motivated.
If you were absolutely without hope, you wouldn’t bother to even attempt to do anything positive because… well, you’ll fail, right? So why would you even both? Why bother working hard when it won’t pay off? Why bother going to the gym when you’ll never be fit anyway. Why bother? Without hope it all seems so completely pointless. So you’ll never achieve anything.
Hope gives you the motivation. Hope is that voice inside that says, “Yes, you can.” And it’s that voice that makes you work hard, that makes you learn new things, that gives you the impetus to actually try. In Hope Theory, which is a psychological view of hope, it’s believed that when we are hopeful 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 we need hope so much.
How Hopeful Are You? Take this test
Hope Theory was created by psychologist Richard Snyder (you can read more about Snyder’s hope theory on MindTools.com).Snyder devised a way to measure how much hope someone has. He called it the Hope Scale.
Take the test below to discover your level of hope and optimism.
(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 success, or ways to avoid failure.
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 energetically pursue them). Or you might find that you worry about your health (7), and other general worries (11) and you don’t believe you are well prepared for the future (9). This is a classic sign of pessimism, so you might like to take some progressive steps to be more hopeful and less pessimistic.
How important is hope compared to other mental traits?
Okay. So we know that hope is important. But is hope as important as other mental traits? For instance, spirituality is important in life.
Is hope more or less important than spirituality? What about sense of humor? That’s important too. Perseverance is very important. And Fairness.. I could go on.
How does hope compare to these other mental traits?
Well we know that hope is more important than self-efficacy (your belief in your own ability) and optimism. We know that because psychologists ? Philip R. Magaletta and J.M. Oliver measured the affects of both and compared them. And they determined that hope was by far the most important of those three.
But hope might not be as important as some other character strengths. One study shows that when it comes to well-being, gratitude and love of learning are most important. (Source: Scientific American). And another fascinating study showed that if you want to be in the military the most important character strengths are Leadership, Teamwork, and Open-Mindedness. (Source: Research Gate)
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 your 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 hopeful. Find the opportunities where you can turn pessimism to 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 your subject is, you will know certain facts about it and have some uncertainties. Now consider how you are using those facts and uncertainties to falsely create a negative and how you could instead use them to create a positive.
Understand what causes your pessimism
Continuing from the above; there will be a reason why you are choosing to be pessimistic at times. 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 to a positive. To illustrate this: imagine you’re awaiting your university degree 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 to 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).
Take a look at this tutorial to use yoga for positivity. It will boost your optimism big time.
Hope is incredibly important in life for health, happiness, and for success.
The 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).
What do you think about this?
Leave a comment.