Flowers on a treeHope is an emotion characterized by positive feelings about the immediate or long-term future. Often hope is coupled with high motivation, optimism, and a generally elevated mood.

What Is Hope?

Hope is a partially subjective term, and both psychologists and philosophers have struggled to define it. Some people believe hopefulness to be a relatively stable personality trait, while some may feel hope depends on external circumstances and previous experience. Still others view hope as a choice. Hope is commonly associated with warm feelings about the future, an increased willingness to work toward a goal, and an upbeat mood.

Hope in Popular Culture

Hope became a recurring theme of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Young people involved in the campaign emphasized the optimism they felt about the future, and the campaign capitalized on this, encouraging voters to feel a sense of pride and hope about their country as a result of their decision to support Barack Obama. Some opponents latched onto this trend by emphasizing that hope was not a plan to improve the country.

Hope and Psychology

When people feel hopeful, they tend to face fewer mental health concerns. Conversely, people experiencing despair are often more likely to be challenged by depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and other problems. Depression in particular can contribute to feelings of despair and hopelessness.

Hopelessness can also affect physical health. People who are not optimistic about their health or about their medical treatment are more likely to remain sick, more likely to report high levels of pain, and less likely to see an improvement in their overall health. Some mental health practitioners, aware of the role hope plays, encourage people in therapy to work on thinking positively about life developments and finding things to be hopeful about. Many mental health professionals hold hope to be an indispensable key to happiness and believe people cannot be happy without hope.


  1. Abi-Hashem, N. (2001). Rediscovering hope in American psychology. American Psychologist, 56(1), 85-86. doi: 10.1037//0003-066X.56.1.85
  2. Hanson, K. (n.d.). What is hope and how can we measure it. Positive Psychology UK. Retrieved from http://www.positivepsychology.org.uk/pp-theory/hope/100-what-is-hope-and-how-can-we-measure-it.html

Last Updated: 01-21-2016

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