Concepts and Beliefs

Hope and Optimism

©Musa Sattar

Mansoor Dahri, UK

What’s the difference between hope and optimism?

That’s the key question posed by Arthur C. Brooks, a writer for The Atlantic magazine, in his article ‘The Difference Between Hope and Optimism’.

Optimism is when you believe that things will always turn out alright no matter what you do.

Hope is when you believe that you can always do something to make things a little better even when things are really bad.

Although the two things are related, it’s perfectly possible to have one without the other. For example:

You can be a hopeless optimist who feels that nothing you do will make any real difference but that everything will turn out fine because the world around you is a fundamentally good place.

You can be a hopeful pessimist who feels that the world around you is bad and the future probably won’t be good but that your actions can make a small difference and make the world a little less bad.

Hope is better than optimism; hopeful people are much more likely to be healthy and successful. But hopeless people are more likely to die.

You can never have too much hope.

But too much optimism can be deadly: American soldiers who were held as prisoners in Vietnam had different coping strategies.

Some kept telling themselves that everything would be fine and that they would soon be free and go home in just a few months. They were the optimists. But months became years.

They died of disappointment and heartbreak.

Those who survived had different coping strategies. They knew that things were bad and had made peace with their new lives. They accepted that they might be in prison forever. But they believed that they could still do things to make life a little less bad. They were hopeful rather than optimistic.

They survived and went free after more than seven long years.

وَ لَنَبۡلُوَنَّکُمۡ بِشَیۡءٍ مِّنَ الۡخَوۡفِ وَ الۡجُوۡعِ وَ نَقۡصٍ مِّنَ الۡاَمۡوَالِ وَ الۡاَنۡفُسِ وَ الثَّمَرٰتِ ؕ وَ بَشِّرِ الصّٰبِرِیۡنَ

‘And We will try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives, and fruits; but give glad tidings to the patient.’ (2:156)

About the Author: Mansoor Dahri is an online editor for The Review of Religions. He has recently graduated from UCL in BA Ancient Languages.

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