Hope, optimism and positivity are all important ideas that have the ability to make our lives better. However, they are not equivalent concepts; it's important to be clear about the differences between them, and when to use them. If we do so we are likely to be able to use them with greater success. So what are the differences between hope, optimism and positivity?
Hope – powering our future
Firstly, hope is an expression of our wishes that things will turn out well. I
t is an expression of our desire for a better future for ourselves and others. It injects us with a reason to keep trying and persevering, it and has a strong motivational impact on us.
Hope doesn't directly reflect what we think the outcome will be but rather reflects what we want the outcome to be. Hope probably reflects the default position for most people in most situations.
Optimism – injecting a positive bias
Secondly, optimism reflects a tendency to look at things in a positive way and reflects an increased expectation that things will, most of the time, go well. It goes beyond hope in that it injects positive bias into our ideas about the future. It too has a motivational impact but it is a biased position tilted towards an expectation of good outcomes.
Like all biases, this can distort the signals that our environment is telling us and cause us to focus on what we would prefer to happen rather than on what is likely to happen. Optimism is an appropriate attitude in many situations when we don't dismiss the possibility of negative outcomes and can cope when they happen.
Positivity – cherry-picking reality
Lastly, positivity is the idea that things will always work out well for us. No matter what the circumstances, the outcome will be right for us. Whilst positivity may help us to think more broadly about the situations we are in, it is essentially a position that asks us to ignore the data about situations if that data is negative. Only positive points of view are welcome and there is no room for a dissenting voice or balance without that being labelled as negativity.
With positivity, the bias is complete. Positivity is essentially an avoidance of negativity, and relates to our unhelpful fear of negativity. I would suggest that it is, paradoxically, only appropriate in hopeless situations when hope and optimism are not enough for us to endure.