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File:Spes or Hope.jpg

Spes or "Hope"; engraving by Sebald Beham, German c1540

Hope is a belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one's life. Hope implies a certain amount of despair, wanting, wishing, suffering or perseverance — i.e., believing that a better or positive outcome is possible even when there is some evidence to the contrary. [1]

Beyond the basic definition, usage of the term hope follows some basic patterns which distinguish its usage from related terms:

  • To wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment. [2]
  • Hopefulness is somewhat different from optimism in that hope is an emotional state, whereas optimism is a conclusion reached through a deliberate thought pattern that leads to a positive attitude. But hope and optimism both can be based in unrealistic belief, or fantasy.
  • When used in a religious context, hope carries a connotation of being aware of spiritual truth; see Hope (virtue).
  • In Catholic theology, hope is one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity), which are spiritual gifts of God. In contrast to the above, it is not a physical emotion but a spiritual grace.
  • Hope is distinct from positive thinking, which refers to a therapeutic or systematic process used in psychology for reversing pessimism.
  • The term false hope refers to a hope based entirely around a fantasy or an extremely unlikely outcome.

Examples of hopes include hoping to get rich, hoping for someone to be cured of a disease, hoping to be done with a term paper, or hoping that a person has reciprocal feelings of love.

Hope was personified in Greek mythology as Elpis. When Pandora opened Pandora's Box, she let out all the evils except one: hope. Apparently, the Greeks considered hope to be as dangerous as all the world's evils. But without hope to accompany all their troubles, humanity was filled with despair. It was a great relief when Pandora revisited her box and let out hope as well. It may be worthy to note that in the story, hope is represented as weakly leaving the box but is in effect far more potent than any of the major evils.

In some faiths and religions of the world, hope plays a very important role. Buddhists and Muslims for instance, believe strongly in the concepts of free will and hope.

Hope is passive in the sense of a wish or a prayer - or active as a plan or idea, often against popular belief, with persistent, personal action to execute the plan or prove the idea. Consider a prisoner of war who never gives up hope for escape and, against the odds, plans and accomplishes this. By contrast, consider another prisoner who simply wishes or prays for freedom, or another who gives up all hope of freedom.

In Human, All Too Human, existential philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had this to say about hope:

Hope. Pandora brought the jar with the evils and opened it. It was the gods' gift to man, on the outside a beautiful, enticing gift, called the "lucky jar." Then all the evils, those lively, winged beings, flew out of it. Since that time, they roam around and do harm to men by day and night. One single evil had not yet slipped out of the jar. As Zeus had wished, Pandora slammed the top down and it remained inside. So now man has the lucky jar in his house forever and thinks the world of the treasure. It is at his service; he reaches for it when he fancies it. For he does not know that that jar which Pandora brought was the jar of evils, and he takes the remaining evil for the greatest worldly good--it is hope, for Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man's torment.

Martin Seligman in his book Learned Optimism (1990) strongly criticizes the role of churches in the promotion of the idea that the individual has little chance or hope of affecting his or her life. He acknowledges that the social and cultural conditions, such as serfdom and the caste system weighed heavily against the freedom of individuals to change the social circumstances of their lives. Almost as if to avoid the criticism, in his book What You Can Change and What You Can't, he is careful to outline the extent that people can hold out hope for personal action to change some of the things that affect their lives.

More recently, psychologist Anthony Scioli (2006) has developed an integrative theory of hope that consists of four elements: attachment, mastery, survival, and spirituality. This approach incorporates contributions from psychology, anthropology, philosophy and theology as well as classical and contemporary literature and the arts.[3]

There is some evidence to suggest that in adverse situations, hope may be worse than hopelessness for overall well-being. For example, people sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole adjust better to their situation than prisoners who retain the possibility of parole. Similarly, patients who underwent a permanent colostomy showed higher life satisfaction 6 months after the operation than those who underwent a potentially reversible colostomy.[4]

Hope as a nonspecific factor in psychotherapy

Jerome Frank counted the clients hope for an improvement in their condition to be an important nonspecific factor in psychotherapy outcomes. Clients who seek treatment are often in a state of hopelessness caused by repeated failures to conquer their problems. One of the first tasks of the therapist is to overcome this hopelessness, enabling them to take the active role that is needed for effective psychological treatment


See also


  1. hope. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved March 18, 2008, from website:
  3. Scioli, A. (2006). Hope and Spirituality in the Age of Anxiety. In R. Estes (Ed.),Advancing Quality of Life in a Turbulent World. New York: Springer.
  4. includeonly>Krakovsky, Marina. "Hope Can Be Worse Than Hopelessness", The New York Times, 2007-12-09. Retrieved on 2007-12-31.


  • Frank, J. D. Persuasion and Healing. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Press, 1961.
  • Hein, David. "Regrets Only: A Theology of Remorse." The Anglican 33, no. 4 (October 2004): 5-6.
  • Orne, M. T. On the nature of effective hope. International Journal of Psychiatry, 1968, 5, 403-410.Full text]

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