Ilona L. Tobin, Ed.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Having a healthy dose of hope can be motivating and inspiring. It keeps people focused on what’s ahead instead of what’s in the past. It can also help keep the focus on possibilities, and reframe obstacles as opportunities.

For some, however, being hopeful goes hand-in-hand with feeling naïve or foolish when things don’t work out as planned. They would rather not have hope at all if it means later disappointment.

But for others, having hope doesn’t mean living in denial of life’s difficulties; it simply reminds them there are better times ahead.

The Benefits of Hope

Research indicates that it’s more beneficial to have hope than not. Hopeful people tend to show more resilience when faced with difficulties. They have healthier lifestyle habits and, on the whole, are more successful, personally and professionally.

According to the Mayo Clinic, having a hopeful, positive attitude has health benefits as well. These include:

  • Increased life span
  • Reduced depression
  • Lowered levels of distress
  • Increased resistance to the common cold
  • Greater emotional and psycho-logical well-being
  • Decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Improved coping skills during difficulties/stress

In addition, people with hope typically have meaningful long- and short-term goals, along with a flexible plan to achieve those goals and the reinforcement of positive self-talk.

We humans are sometimes too inventive for our own good—we can envision a future course of action along with every potential catastrophe that could occur along the way. Being aware of everything that can go wrong often makes doing nothing—in an attempt to avoid failure or pain—seem like a viable option.

Cultivating hope, on the other hand, helps activate creativity and inventiveness and prompts us to solve the predicaments we face by taking action in spite of our fears.

Hope brings with it the belief that things can get better. Regardless of how dire things may seem, there is potential for a positive outcome.

Is It Possible to Be Too Hopeful?

It could be said that optimists have a healthy dose of hope while “extreme optimists,” suffer from blinding hope. They want nothing to do with bad news.

Researchers at Duke University found that extreme optimists (you could call them “high-hopers”) don’t save money, don’t pay off credit cards and don’t make long-term plans, but they are more likely to remarry if divorced.

Moderation, as usual, is the key. The researchers also found that “moderate optimists” tend to work harder and work longer hours, earn and save more money—and pay off their credit cards.

Being a moderate high-hoper doesn’t mean keeping your head in the sand when it comes to life’s occasional unpleasant circumstances. It just means keeping a positive attitude—believing the best will happen, not the worst.

That helps ensure that when difficult situations do arise, you’re looking for a way to make the best of it.

Studies seem to suggest that being hopeful is a skill that can be learned. So whether you’re an extreme optimist, an extreme pessimist or somewhere in between, there is hope for us all.