Does Hope Have a Downside?

Does Hope Have a Downside?

Leon Seltzer, PhD, called hope “this most paradoxical of subjects” and devised a list of seven “downsides” related to hope (Seltzer, 2018):

1. Hope as an inherently biased ideal.
2. Hope can set us up for disappointment and defeat.
3. Hope can hamper us from adequately preparing for negative outcomes.
4. Hope as something like prayer: wishing for something rather than – more forcefully -working toward it.
5. Hope as a forfeiture of personal power and control.
6. Hope as self-deception.
7. Hope as setting us up for . . . hopelessness.

Hope vs. Optimism

However, as contradictory to the above theories as this may sound, effort without hope can be just as detrimental. Is it possible to succeed at any goal if pursued without hope? Perhaps an equally important element in the achieving of goals is optimism. Hope and optimism can be easily confused, but they are different.

“In one study conducted by Patricia Bruininks and Bertram Malle, the researchers asked lay people to define hope, optimism, and other related concepts, and write stories about when they had experienced these states. After conducting their analysis of these texts, the authors concluded: ‘Most important, hope is distinct from optimism by being an emotion, representing more important but less likely outcomes, and by affording less personal control…When people do have a high degree of control, they may no longer need to be just hopeful but can be optimistic because the outcome is now attainable’” (Bruininks & Malle, 2006, as cited by Dholakia, 2017).

Even though many people think of hope and optimism as being the same, studies show they don’t always relate to each other. It is not necessary to have one to have the other. “One study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found correlations between optimism and agency [goal-directed energy] to be +0.32 and between optimism and pathways [planning to meet goals] to be +0.36. This suggests that people can be very optimistic but only mildly hopeful or vice versa. This same study also found that pathways predicted life satisfaction to a greater degree than optimism did” (Dholakia, 2017)


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About the Author

Mary McFaddenMary has lived in the Sacramento, California area her entire life. Her undergraduate degrees were in Journalism and Music. Upon graduation she worked for small regional newspapers which launched her career in Sacramento’s city government. She worked several years as an aide to a city councilmember, then moved to the Sacramento Police Department where she worked for over 20 years. Mary worked in a unit providing community policing training to law enforcement throughout California and participated in several curriculum development meetings with the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. She then went on to be a creator and editor for many years of the Police Department’s publications, annual reports and website. While working for the City Council, Mary received her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from The Professional School of Psychology (PSP). She is currently pursuing her Doctorate degree at PSP. Mary’s husband is also a graduate of PSP and they have two grown children. Her education in psychology has been an invaluable part of her professional and private life.

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