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Hope & Optimism

Download Whitepaper

It is tempting to look to hope and optimism as ways of withstanding, or even smothering, negative emotions. But should we? Professor Michael Milona of Ryerson University explores these themes and more in our Hope & Optimism whitepaper.

Illustration by Marina Muun

What are the benefits shown by the science of optimism and hope? Human beings are ambitious and goal-oriented creatures. Many, for example, aim at stable and fulfilling careers, good health, and happy families. Some also pursue broader aims, such as social justice, technological progress, or scientific discovery. But with such ambition comes adversity. When our central aims come under threat, as they inevitably do, we often find ourselves pessimistic or fearful. Despair might threaten to take hold. It is thus tempting to look to hope and optimism as ways of withstanding, or even smothering, these negative emotions. But should we?

Because hope and optimism are distinct, their respective advantages and disadvantages are best explored separately. In this review, Professor Michael Milona of Ryerson University begins with the science of optimism and moves subsequently to the science of hope. It can likewise be misleading to talk about whether hope and optimism are good “on the whole.” Such abstract pronouncements obscure the differing roles that hope and optimism play in distinct aspects of our lives. Consequently, the review focuses on the functions of hope and optimism in different domains, including, for instance, healthcare, education, and politics.

The primary subject of this review is the Hope and Optimism Initiative, a $4.5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation led by researchers at Notre Dame, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania. This grant also supported numerous sub-projects for scholars working around the world. The aim of the project was to explore the nature and benefits of hope and optimism from philosophical, theological, and empirical perspectives. The white paper covers the results of research on hope and the science of optimism.

Read the full white paper on Hope & Optimism written by Professor Michael Milona of Ryerson University.

Read “Finding Hope When Everything Feels Hopeless” by Elizabeth Bernstein for The Wall Street Journal. (October 27, 2020)

Discover our other research papers on discoveries. Explore topics such as:

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Hope & Optimism April 15, 2022

Passover: A Transformative Story of Hope

Hope & Optimism June 8, 2021

Hope is an action, not a state. Here’s how to do it better.

Philosopher of education Sarah Stitzlein on the power of pragmatist hope In 2016, psychologist Angela Duckworth published the book Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance. Grit was an instant […]

Hope & Optimism April 8, 2021

More than a Feeling: How Hope Galvanizes Us Into Action

Hope is the seedbed of change. But it doesn’t always feel good. Hope is the heartbeat of stories. The hero’s journey, great epics, and books that keep us reading well […]

Hope & Optimism March 29, 2021

WATCH: Did Science Invent Optimism?

What role did science play in the emergence of optimism? Join us in conversation with the Columbia University professor and chair of biology, Dr. Stuart Firestein. Author of two trade […]

Hope & Optimism March 23, 2021

Optimism Gets a Bad Rap. Here’s Why It’s More Necessary Than Ever

Research uncovers how—and when—to cultivate optimism Optimism suffers from a bad reputation in contemporary culture. At best, it’s painted as sweetly misguided and naïve. (“Pollyanna,” once the heroine of a […]

Hope & Optimism November 11, 2020

Foundation Releases White Paper on Study of Hope and Optimism

A new report explores the benefits of two related virtues. A new paper published by the John Templeton Foundation explores the latest scientific and philosophical research on the related but […]

Hope & Optimism January 24, 2017

Two new grants aim to unravel the essence of hope & optimism

Some people are unflappable optimists. The gambler who just knows that the next roll will be a winner. The patient diagnosed with cancer who is sure he can beat it. […]