‘Hope’ and ‘Optimism’, two words that are often interchanged, which may send out the same meaning, but are in reality very different. Both these words have carried many questions with them: How should we even measure them? Are optimistic people healthier? Does it help when people face terminal illnesses? Is hope even under our control?
It sounds like it’s very easy to maintain a hopeful and optimistic attitude, which in turn affects a person’s health, relationships, and performance at work and academics. However, what is it that makes a person’s attitude so hopeful or optimistic?
Hope is a feeing of expectation or even desire for something to happen. Yes, it is absolutely good to have a positive approach towards life, which indeed is ‘a strength’, but is this how things should be? This highly positive approach towards life can actually turn into something that can inherently betray us. While we may casually shrug it off, it will eat us alive—negativity, projection, cynicism, or even autopilot pessimism. We begin to gloss over the reality of our circumstances, and it can be a tough battle to fight.
To put it simply, there is a massive difference between hope and optimism. While unrealistic hope refers to unreasonable or even irrational expectations, unthinking optimism is far worse, causing a person to believe that they are at a lesser risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others. Such a person is not even in a situation to help themselves.
It is really one’s ability to move past obstacles and difficulties that requires a lot of optimism. However, people try to get by rather differently: through unrealistic hope and through blind optimism.
Most often, people pursue goals which give them a deeper sense of accomplishment and achieve hope, a goal amidst the vicissitudes of life. In fact, optimism is the new version of “don’t worry, be happy.” It has even been shown by scientists that our brains are wired for optimism. It’s easier for our brains to register positive lessons, than negative ones; and that’s because optimism is good for our health.
What people really WANT is not unthinking optimism but flexible optimism, where we are able to see the pessimism’s keen sense of reality whenever we need to but not dwell in its dark shadows.
Are we born to be optimistic, rather than realistic? Tali Sharot shares new research that suggests our brains are wired to look on the bright side, and how that can be both dangerous and beneficial.
According to many researchers, if you do not have hope, then you are more likely to employ mastery goals which means choosing easily attainable tasks that aren’t very challenging, and do not even help you grow.
Even if you look back at the keynote speech of Barack Obama, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention for the United States Senate from Illinois—the man who would later go on to become the 44th President of the United States in 2009—you will see how much he emphasised on hope and not on the kind of detrimental optimism I’m talking about. According to him hope is believing, and then working and fighting for the things that matter the most.
Finding a way back to pragmatic optimism and even to hope is one of the most difficult journeys one can take. It’s an inward self-journey, but once you know you can find your way back, I’m sure you wont want to waste another second there!