Road to Well-Being
Plains of Optimism

Port Hope

Lake of Stress

All About | How To's | Resources

All About

Optimism and hope are very similar concepts in some ways. Essentially, developing optimism and hope both depend on having or developing a positive attitude. So, attitude is the main idea that joins these two concepts.

There is a subtle difference between optimism and hope though. Optimism is more about the present, the right now. Hope looks more toward the future — an hour from now or tomorrow or two months or years down the road.

There are 2 important aspects to being hopeful that researchers have found lead to a better sense of well-being. The first aspect is planning or goal setting and the second is finding the silver lining.

Planning for the Future/Goal Setting


“The perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and the ability to motivate oneself to use these pathways to reach goals” (Snyder, 2000).

In other words, part of having hope is being able to make goals, set plans, and believe you will achieve them. Snyder, one of the key researchers in this area, also believes that hopeful people maintain their goals, even when they experience setbacks or difficult circumstances. High-hope people believe they can adapt to let-downs and loss:

“Hopeful people maintain their pathways and agency thought under normal circumstances, but especially when they are confronted with impediments” (Snyder, 2002, p.251).

Planning or goal setting and having some expectation that you can achieve these goals is part of what it means to be hopeful. We know that a sense of achievement or accomplishment creates positive feelings for us. Just think about how you feel when you’ve finally done that thing that you’ve been putting off for days. You say, “I did it!” There is a sense of accomplishment and accompanying good feelings. That’s what setting some goals for ourselves can do for us.

Goal setting takes a bit of work and some practice. There are a few steps involved in setting goals.

  1. Develop clear workable goals
  2. Brainstorm options for routes to achieve those goals
  3. Consider pros and cons of the different routes
  4. Choose one route or course of action. Use imagery to reach goals (envision the plan in action)
  5. Evaluate outcome — return to 1, 2, or 3 depending on outcome


Goal Setting Example

To show you how this works, we’ll take an example and work it through. Let’s say I want to get into better physical shape. How could I go about that?

  1. “Better physical shape” is not a very clear goal. I need to decide if I’m talking about strength, cardiovascular fitness, nutrition, or some combination of all three. Because I want my goal to be specific, I’m going to focus on cardiovascular fitness. I can make it more specific by saying I want to go for a 30-minute walk 5 times a week. This goal is now quite clear. Then I need to ask myself if it is workable. If I haven’t been exercising for a few years, it is likely unworkable to expect myself to start walking for 30 minutes, 5 times a week. It would be more workable to set my goal to begin walking 10 minutes, 5 times a week, and gradually build up my endurance.
  2. Let’s say I want to walk outside. I could walk before I went to work, incorporate walking into my commute to work, walk at noon hour, or walk after work. I could walk by myself or with a partner. If walking inside is an option, I could walk on a treadmill at a gym or at the local mall’s walking circuit. Thus, even with a goal as simple as walking for 30-minutes 5 times a week, there are many different routes to the same goal.
  3. Now I need to evaluate the pros and cons of each possible route. For example, imagine that my friend, Sheila, says she wants to be my walking partner. If I know that my friend Sheila is very unreliable, and will rarely actually come with me, it might be more discouraging to have her as a walking partner than to go myself. If I am considering walking in the evening, but know that I often have other activities at that time, I may be wise to choose a morning time instead. Your chance of success will be much greater if you consider the pros and cons of possible routes to your goal, and choose the route with the most positives.
  4. I decide that my course of action is to walk for 30 minutes, Monday to Friday, and give myself the weekend off. I decide to walk by myself, and to incorporate that walking time into my commute to work. Now I take some time to visualize my walk. I see myself getting up, getting ready for work, finding my walking shoes, and going out the door. I see myself walking along the sidewalk or the trail, enjoying the fresh air. I anticipate how good my body will feel when I arrive at work refreshed by the walk. These types of positive images help us to look forward to the positive/hopeful aspects of setting a goal and attaining it.
  5. A few weeks later, I pause to evaluate my progress toward my goal. I find that I have walked to work most days, except it seems to be very difficult to walk on Wednesdays, because I have an early morning meeting. I decide to change my routine, and take Wednesday off, and walk on Sundays with a reliable friend. Otherwise I’m quite pleased with my progress, and declare it a success.

To work through a goal-setting example of your own, check out the How To's section on this page.

Finding the Silver Lining

Looking for good in the negative experiences of life can range from finding one good event in a relatively “bad day” at work, to finding a positive aspect in a traumatic experience. Building this capacity for hope can help us to move to a world view that includes positive events and experiences.


“If one can learn to identify something good in a bad experience, then finding the one positive element in life’s more mundane situations becomes easier,” (Riskind & Mercier, 1996, p.110).

It is important to remember that, particularly in tragic/traumatic events, finding the silver lining is not about minimizing how terrible a situation or event was. Awful things happen and finding the silver lining is not about saying “Oh, just look on the bright side.” Looking for the silver lining, in fact, is taking the next step – the step after we acknowledge how awful the situation is. When we experience something negative in our lives we need to do two things:

  1. We need to acknowledge how awful the situation is — by identifying the losses, or how your life has now changed in ways that you did not want. We also need to acknowledge the negative emotions that are created because of it — the hurt, pain, and fear (or whatever those emotions are for you). We need to honour those emotions by feeling and experiencing them. It is only then that we can move to the next step to working it through.
  2. Look for the silver lining — try to find something positive in a very negative situation or event. You might look for the silver lining by asking yourself — is there anything positive that came from this? Now, finding something positive does not mean that you’re glad this awful thing happened. Not at all. Of course you would wish it hadn’t happened. But, given that it has, what is there within the awfulness that you can take from it. You might want to ask yourself — is there anything that I have learned? Have I learned anything about life? About living through this hardship? Have I learned anything about me that I didn’t know before? Can I see this in a new way?

An example of finding the silver lining can be found in a research study by Affleck, et al. (1987). Of 287 men who had heart attacks, about half of them found something beneficial in their experience (e.g., changing life philosophy, value, healthy lifestyles, more life enjoyment). Those who found some benefit from their near-death experiences, had less disability and were less likely to experience another heart attack over eight years later.


Hope is an important component that can improve our mind, body and spirit health!

  • Low hope people are more likely to suffer from depression.
  • High hope people believe that they can adapt.
  • High hope people experience improved physical and psychological well-being.

For an exercise on finding the silver lining, check out the How To's section on this page.

How To's

Setting Priorities for Change — Rank your life priorities and choose an area for change

Goal-Setting Worksheet — Step-by-step guide for setting goals

Hope Can Be Learned: Finding the Silver Lining — a worksheet to guide you in finding the positive in difficult situations

These planning pointers can also be helpful in setting attainable goals.

Planning Pointers

Break a long-range goal into steps or sub-goals Think you can reach your big goals all at once
Begin your pursuit of a distant goal by concentrating on sub-goals Be too hurried in producing routes to your goals
Practise making different routes to goals and selecting the best one Be rushed to select the best or first route to your goal
Rehearse in your mind what you will need to do to attain your goal Over think with the idea of finding one perfect route to your goal
Mentally rehearse scripts for what you will do if you run into a blockage Stop thinking about alternate strategies when one doesn’t work
Accept that you selected a wrong strategy and select a different one instead of blaming yourself Conclude your are lacking in talent or are no good when an initial strategy fails
Learn a new skill to reach a goal Be caught off guard when one approach doesn’t work
Cultivate two-way friendships to give and get advice Get into friendships where you are praised for not coming up with solutions to your problems
Ask for help if you don’t know how to get to a goal  

Increasing Motivation for Change

Tell yourself that you have chosen the goal so it is your job to go after it Get impatient if your self-motivation doesn’t increase quickly
Learn to talk in positive voices (e.g., I can do this!) Put your self down, or criticize your efforts
Anticipate roadblocks that may happen Panic when you run into a roadblock
Think of problems as challenges Conclude that things never will change
Recall your previous successful goal pursuits, particularly when you are in a jam Engage in self-pity when faced with adversity
Be able to laugh at yourself, especially if you encounter some impediment to your goal pursuit Take yourself so seriously
Find a substitute goal when the original goal is blocked solidly Stick to a blocked goal when it is truly blocked
Enjoy the process of getting to your goals and do not focus only on the final attainment Constantly ask yourself how you are going to evaluate your progress toward a goal
Focus on your physical health, including diet, sleep, and physical exercise Abuse damaging substances (e.g., caffeine-laden products, cigarettes, alcohol)
Squelch internal put-down thoughts Allow yourself to be repeatedly blocked by roadblocks


Charts adapted from Lopez et al. Hope therapy: Helping clients build a house of hope. In Snyder, C.R. (2000). Handbook of Hope: Theory, Measures, and Applications. London: Academic Press.



Affleck, G., Tennen, H., & Croog, S. (1987). Casual attribution, perceived benefits, and morbidity after a heart attack: An 8-year study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 29 - 35.

Lopez, S. J., Floyd, R. K., Ulven, J. C., & Snyder, C. R. (2000). Hope therapy: Helping clients build a house of hope. In Snyder, C.R., Handbook of Hope: Theory, measures, and applications. London: Academic Press.

Riskind, J. H., Sarampote, C., & Mercier, M. A. (1996). For every malady a sovereign cure: Optimism training. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 10, 105 – 117.

Snyder, C. R. (2002). Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13, 249 – 275.

Recommended Book

Prochaska, J.O., Norcross, J.C., & Diclemente, C.C. (1994). Changing for good. New York: W. Morrow.

Recommended Websites

For an overview of Snyder's research on hope go to

Snyder, Feldman, & Rand (2002). Hopeful choices: a school counselor's guide to hope theory. Professional School Counselling.

<< Plains of Optimism   Lake of Stress >>