Hope in Education

Hope Vs Optimism

By Antonietta Marinelli | November 12, 2021

This month at Mentor Education, we’re focusing on hope as we take part, for the third year running in the Hope Barometer International Research Project. This project involves over sixteen countries worldwide and seeks to deliver a broad-based study of the hopes, desires, and future expectations on our population.

So, what is hope? And what is optimism? They say that there’s a word for believing that we can make things better without distorting reality: not optimism, but hope (Brooks, 2021). We know there is a difference between the two, but where do the differences lie? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, hope is “something good that you want to happen in the future, or a confident feeling about what will happen in the future,” and optimism is “the quality of being full of hope and emphasizing the good parts of a situation, or a belief that something good will happen”. Hope and optimism are often used interchangeably. “I’m hopeful about my prospects” or “I’m optimistic about the future.” But hope and optimism are two different concepts (Cunff, 2020).

How Do They Differ?

Hope and optimism are part of our cognitive, emotional, and motivational outlooks toward the future, both featuring the belief that pleasant events will outweigh the bad events in the future (McCullough, 2020). While they’re both beneficial in their own way, it’s important to learn the difference and knowing when one may be better suited than the other (Cunff, 2020).

More specifically Hope separates itself from an institution of optimism by operating as an active force that can drive change and impact the future (Vlieghe, 2019). In the realm of positive psychology and identifiable benefits it’s argued that hope drives a cognitive-motivative state in individuals that offers a positive contribution towards mental health (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).


Hope allows for us to cope better with difficult and stressful situations and allows us to approach situations with a calmer approach. People with hope don’t just wish for something good to happen – they hold a concrete plan to make it happen. Research into the state of hope as an inherent personality trait which separated High-hopers from Low-hopers found that High-hopers persist when faced with adversity and attempt to address challenges put in front of them where as Low-hopers perceive such challenges as “traps” which they were unlikely to mitigate (Snyder, 2000).Hope holds three components:

  • Willpower – the ability to set goals and stick to them
  • Way-power – finding ways to meet these goals
  • Follow-through – the flexibility and know-how to see these goals through


Holding optimism at times can give others the impression that you are naïve, because you hold a “glass half-full” mentality and expecting the ‘perfect’ outcome of a situation may not always be the case. However, optimism is more akin to the expectations for your future. When you’re optimistic, you’re likely to believe what you hope for will eventually happen. Optimism is a simplified way of thinking about life, and includes the following beliefs:

  • Things will work out reasonably well
  • Even during difficult times, life is good
  • There is almost always a way to get the job done
  • Life can be improved through consistent effort

Even though hope and optimism are two different things, one isn’t nearly as beneficial without the other. Someone who holds optimism without hope could think everything is going to turn out great, but they hold no plans to make that greatness happen, or a pessimist could have a place without the belief to see it through. It is important to obtain both hope and optimism to get a clear view on what’s ahead.

In an article written by the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, two psychologists used survey data to parse the two concepts. They determined that “hope focuses more directly on the personal attainment of specific goals, whereas optimism focuses more broadly on the expected quality of future outcomes in general”. So basically, optimism is the belief that will turn out all right, and hope makes no such assumption but is a conviction that one can act to make things better in some way. To be part of this year’s 2021 Hope Barometer study please complete the short (5-10 minute) anonymous survey via the link below and where possible share it with friends, family and work colleagues.
Complete the survey here: Efs-Survey


• Brooks., C. Arthur 2021. The Difference Between Hope and Optimism. The Atlantic. [Accessed 11 November 2021]
Hope Optimism Happiness

• McCullough , M. (2000). Forgiveness as human strength: Theory, measurement, and links to well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 43–55. [Accessed 11 November 2021]

• Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. . New York: Oxford University Press.

• Snyder, C. (2000). The past and possible futures of hope. Journal of Clinical and Social Psychology, 19, 11-28. doi:10.1521/jscp.2000.19.1.11

• Vlieghe, J. (2019). Education and hope. Ethics and Education, 14(2), 117-125. doi:10.1080/17449642.2019.1587688



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