Hope is similar to optimismOpens in new window, and the two concepts have not always been clearly distinguished. A leading modern thinker about hope has been American psychologist C.R. Snyder, who published hope theoryOpens in new window in the 1990s.

Snyder argued that hope is different from optimism in that hope is more specific and includes a plan— “goal-directed thought”—whereas optimism is a more general positive attitude.

Hope involves two specific types of thinking:

  1. pathways thinking (one’s perceived ability to find paths to desired goals) and
  2. agency thinking (one’s motivation to utilize those paths).

Thus hoping implies the existence of goals, pathways, and agency. The goals involved in hope may be short- or long-term. They may be approach- or avoidance-oriented, meaning that the aim may be either to achieve a goal that is desired or to prevent a circumstance that is undesired.

Goals also vary in how difficult they are to achieve; some may be very easy and others quite difficult. An individual may recruite others in his hope-oriented behaviors, especially if the goal is difficult. Additionally, humans, may possess collective hopes and work together to achieve their goals (i.e., working together on the campaing for a political candidate or working together to help global warming).

High hopers, compared to low hopers, have more positive emotionOpens in new window and a better history of success in achieving their goals. When pursuing a goal, one may encounter frustrations—times when the path to the goal is blocked. The pathways thinking aspect of hope is associated with an ability to generate alternatives routes when the original ones are blocked (Snyder et al., 1991).

Agency thinking is associated with positive self-talk when a goal is impeded (i.e., “I can do this,” “If I’m persistent, I will succeed”; Snyder, LaPointe, Crowson, & Early, 1998).

Snyder argues that hope is primarily taught rather than inherited. According to him, pathways thinking is acquired first and is based in fundamental cause-and-effect thinking. Agency thinking involves an individual seeing herself as a cause of her outcomes or experiences.

Snyder and his colleagues have found that hope predicts a number of positive outcomes for individuals in the realms of school achievement, athletic achievement, physical and psychological health, psychotherapy, and others (for a review, see Snyder, 2002). Snyder and colleague have written a number of books that describe his theory about the origins of hope and how-to instructions for enhancing hope, for example, The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here (Snyder, 2003) for adults and McDermont and Snyder’s (2000) The Great Big Book of Hope for children.

See also:
  1. McDermott, D., & Snyder, C.R. (2000). The great big book of hope. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
  2. Snyder, C.R. (2002). Hope theory: Rainbows of the mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13, 249 – 275.
  3. Snyder, C.R. (2003). The psychology of hope: You can get there from here. New York: Free Press.
  4. Snyder, C.R., Harris, C., Anderson, J.R., Holleran, S.A., Irving, L.M., Sigmon, S.T., et al. (1991). The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 570 – 585.
  5. Snyder, C.R., LaPointe, A.B., Crowson, J.J., Jr., & Early, S. (1998). Preferences of high- and low-hope people for self-referential input. Cognition and Emotion, 12, 807 – 823.