What is Hope in Psychology + 7 Exercises & Worksheets

hope therapyWhile hope is an undoubtedly personal experience and one that can be challenging to define, the value and positive impact hope can have on human life is widely recognized and difficult to ignore.

People often speak about hope strengthening their resolve and accompanying them even in their darkest hour; guiding them through seemingly desperate circumstances.

Hope helps us remain committed to our goals and motivated to take action towards achieving. Hope gives people a reason to continue fighting and believing that their current circumstances will improve, despite the unpredictable nature of human existence.

As psychologist and renowned hope researcher Charles Snyder et al. (2002, p. 269) stated so eloquently:

A rainbow is a prism that sends shards of multicolored light in various directions. It lifts our spirits and makes us think of what is possible. Hope is the same – a personal rainbow of the mind.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Happiness & Subjective Wellbeing Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients identify sources of authentic happiness and strategies to boost wellbeing.

What is Hope?

According to Snyder et al. (1991) hope is a positive cognitive state based on a sense of successful goal-directed determination and planning to meet these goals. In other words, hope is like a snap-shot of a person’s current goal-directed thinking, highlighting the motivated pursuit of goals and the expectation that those goals can be achieved.

While some approaches conceptualize hope in the realm of being, that is acknowledging hope during illness and within palliative care; Snyder et al. (1991) emphasized the relevance of hope in the context of doing – that is the capacity to achieve goals.

According to Snyder’s Hope Theory (Snyder et al., 1991), hopefulness is a life-sustaining human strength comprised of three distinct but related components:

  1. Goals Thinking – the clear conceptualization of valuable goals.
  2. Pathways Thinking – the capacity to develop specific strategies to reach those goals.
  3. Agency Thinking – the ability to initiate and sustain the motivation for using those strategies.

Hope does not necessarily fade in the face of adversity; in fact hope often endures despite poverty, war and famine. While no one is exempt from experiencing challenging life events, hope fosters an orientation to life that allows a grounded and optimistic outlook even in the most challenging of circumstances.

4 Examples of Hope

Hope therapyAccording to research there are different types of hope.

1. Realistic Hope

Realistic hope is hope for an outcome that is reasonable or probable (Wiles, Cott, & Gibson, 2008).

In this sense, an individual suffering from chronic pain might hope for a small reduction in pain, knowing that complete eradication is unrealistic.

According to Eaves, Nichter, and Ritenbaugh (2016) being realistic is a way of hoping that allows individuals to observe and understand their situation while still maintaining openness toward the possibility of positive change.

2. Utopian Hope

This way of hoping is a collectively oriented hope that collaborative action can lead to a better future for all. According to (Webb, 2013) the utopian hoper critically negates the present and is driven by hope to affirm a better alternative. Consider utopian hope presented by a political movement; a movement that effectively articulates the hopes of a social group to expand the horizons of possibility.

3. Chosen Hope

Hope not only helps us live with a difficult present but also with an uncertain future. In addition to physical suffering, a diagnosis of a serious or terminal illness is a major contributor to psychiatric syndromes and distress. Understandably, multiple factors such as grief, fear, and concerns about loved ones can contribute to experiences of hopelessness within this population.

In the palliative care context, for instance, chosen hope is critical to the management of despair and its accompanying paralysis of action. Garrard and Wrigley (2009) suggested that hope for even the most restricted range of goals within the limits of a life is essential to the regulation of negative emotions.

4. Transcendent Hope

According to Eaves, Nichter, and Ritenbaugh (2016), transcendent hope encompasses three types of hope, namely:

  1. Patient Hope – a hope that everything will work out well in the end.
  2. Generalized Hope – hope not directed toward a specific outcome.
  3. Universal Hope – a general belief in the future and a defense against despair in the face of challenges.

Also referred to as existential hope, transcendent hope describes a stance of general hopefulness not tied to a specific outcome or goal; put simply, it is the hope that something good can happen.

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8 Benefits of Having Hope

  1. Hope is significantly correlated with superior academic and athletic performance, greater physical and psychological wellbeing, improved self-esteem, and enhanced interpersonal relationships (Rand & Cheavens, 2012).
  2. Hope has the potential to enhance wellbeing over time. Erez and Isen (2002) found that individuals who are more hopeful and expect to be successful in achieving goals are more likely to experience a state of wellbeing.
  3. Individuals with high hope are more likely to view stressful situations as challenging rather than threatening, thereby reducing the intensity and hindering the proliferation of stress (Lazarus & Launier, 1978).
  4. Hope can be perceived as a protective factor against the development of chronic anxiety. Michael (2000) found that hope correlates significantly and negatively with anxiety, while also protecting against perceptions of vulnerability, uncontrollability, and unpredictability.
  5. Hope is a motivational factor that helps initiate and sustain action toward long-term goals, including the flexible management of obstacles that get in the way of goal attainment. High-hope individuals can conceptualize their goals clearly; establishing goals based on their own previous performances. In this way, hopeful individuals have greater control over how they will pursue goals and are intrinsically motivated to find multiple pathways to successful goal attainment (Conti, 2000).
  6. Snyder et al. (2002) found that high hope college students were more likely to graduate than their low hope counterparts. Their findings indicated that students with low hope graduated at an overall 40.27% rate as compared with 56.50% of high-hope students. Additionally, low hope students were also at greater risk of being dismissed (25%) relative to their high hope peers (7.1%).
  7. Hope is positively related to overall life satisfaction (Roesch & Vaughn, 2006).
  8. Hope, with its in-built orientation towards the future, motivates individuals to maintain their positive involvement in life regardless of any limitations imposed upon them (Rideout & Montemuro, 1986).

A Look at Hope Therapy and its Application

Historically, it was accepted that reducing negative symptoms leads to improved mental health and effective performance.

However, the strategies of positive psychology give primacy to increasing wellbeing, rather than ‘treating’ illness.

Hope Therapy is borne from pure positive psychology. Rather than focusing on unpleasant or distressing factors, Hope Therapy techniques incorporates positive self-talking, hopeful imagination, and connections with supportive networks (Shekarabi-Ahari, Younesi, Borjali, & Ansari-Damavandi, 2012).

Hope Therapy is designed to help clients to conceptualize clearer goals, produce multiple pathways to goal attainment, and reframe barriers as challenges to be overcome (Lopez, Floyd, Ulven, & Snyder, 2000). According to Crocker (1998) hope therapy helps improve satisfaction, resilience, and levels of depression by effectively creating a positive cognitive triad; that is a positive view of yourself, of the world and of the future.

Furthermore, hope therapy can encourage individuals with a history of depression or unpleasant past experiences to contemplate the future in a more positive way rather than as a projection of previous experience (Santos et al., 2013).

Encouraging clients to express their life stories is an integral part of Hope Therapy; these stories provide opportunities for clinicians to highlight and encourage hopeful perspectives. For instance, Santos et al. (2013) found that group hope therapy significantly decreased depression and increased hope in mothers whose children suffer from cancer.

Additionally, a hope-focused approach to couples therapy can motivate each partner to take the initiative in improving their relationship (agency thinking) and develop concrete methods of achieving their goals (pathways thinking).

Worthington et al. (1997) examined the outcome of Hope Therapy aimed at improving enrichment and increasing couples’ hope of a successful relationship. The results indicated that hope therapy is an effective method of making positive changes to partner satisfaction.


The science and power of hope – Chan Hellman

Common Questions About Hope

While we have all known and experienced hope at some point, it is also a complicated and unique concept. Here we will look at some of the most common questions and misconceptions about hope.

Is hope the same as optimism?

It is true that optimism has much in common with hope, both are concerned with a positive future orientation and both assume that good things will generally occur in one’s life. The difference is that optimism is a positive attitude about a future event that is probable and likely to occur: the optimist expects that life will work out well and as expected (Scheier & Carver, 1993).

Conversely, being hopeful is regarded as more realistic. The hopeful individual recognizes that life may not work out as planned, yet maintains positive expectancy directed toward possible outcomes that hold personal significance (Miceli & Castelfranchi, 2002).

Are there any potential negative effects?

There are potential pitfalls when it comes to hope. Criticisms aimed at hope research are primarily concerned with the dangers of false hope. Despite repeated failure at attempts to change aspects of their behavior, people make frequent attempts at self-change which can result in a cycle of failure characterized by unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount, ease, and consequences of self-change attempts (Polivy & Herman, 2002).

Additionally, there is a possibility that clients may act unwisely if their focus is solely on the possible instead of on the probable. Furthermore, Polivy and Herman (2002) emphasized the unethical aspect of raising a client’s hope when the desired outcome is unlikely.

Isn’t hope just wishful thinking?

While wishing represents a general want or desire for something in the future, hoping is less ephemeral and involves a solid commitment to seeking future outcomes. Where hope is an active process, wishing is ambiguous and passive because it does not involve a plan of how to accomplish change (Hollis et al., 2005).

How does hope differ from wanting?

While these constructs share some similar characteristics the two are very different. Desire is less directed than hope; where hope can evoke a future-oriented desire to achieve a goal, desire alone stretches out open-ended in many directions – past, present, and future (Davidson, Park, & Shields, 2011).

While hoping and wishing can both involve a relatively low likelihood of the outcome occurring, individuals tend to wish for outcomes that have little or no possibility of occurring (Bruininks & Malle, 2005).

What are some common barriers to hope?

Many experiences and emotions can threaten hope. For instance, when it is perceived that the outcome of a situation can no longer be controlled, hopelessness may result (Yeasting & Jung, 2010). The biggest threat to hope is an inability to affect the kinds of changes people desire in their lives.

Support is also a critical factor in the development of hope. While an absence of support can lead to isolation, hopelessness, and lack of motivation, an individual with a solid support network is better able to imagine positive possibilities (Adams & Partee, 1998).

The Adult Hope Scale (AHS)

Grounding helps with anxietyOften referred to as the Trait Hope Scale or the Future Scale, the Adult Hope Scale (AHS; Snyder et al., 1991) is a 12-item measure of hope designed for individuals over 15 years of age.

The scale is divided into two subscales which fit the cognitive model of hope (Snyder, Irving, & Anderson, 1991) in which hope is a positive motivational state based on an interactively derived sense of successful:

  1. Agency thinking (goal-directed energy)
  2. Pathways thinking (planning to accomplish goals)

Of the 12 items, four items measure pathways thinking, four items measure agency thinking, and four items are fillers. Each item is answered using an 8-point scale ranging from 1 (Definitely False) to 8 (Definitely True).

After completion, subscale scores can be examined independently or combined to create a total hope score. The higher the total score, the higher the overall degree of the respondent’s hope.

Agency scores can range from a minimum of 4 to a maximum of 32 points, with higher numbers reflecting a higher amount of goal-directed energy.

Pathways scores can also range from 4 to 32 points, with higher numbers indicating a greater capability for planning to accomplish goals.

The State Hope Scale (SHS)

Also known as the Goals Scale for the Present, the State Hope Scale (SHS; Snyder et al., 1996) was developed to assess goal-directed thinking in a given moment. Without identifying specific goals, the short 6-item self-report SHS measures an individual’s momentary hopeful thinking by asking respondents to rate items based on how they think about themselves on an 8-point Likert scale from 1 (definitely false) to 8 (definitely true).

Respondents are invited to take a few minutes to focus on themselves and what is currently going on in their lives in order to achieve a ‘here and now’ mindset. The State Hope Scale measures a person’s level of hope at a single point in time and is based on the respondent’s current situation.

Pathways subscale scores can be calculated by adding the scores for items 1, 3, and 5 – higher scores indicate higher levels of pathways thinking.

Agency subscale scores can be calculated by adding the scores of items 2, 4, and 6 – higher scores indicate higher levels of agency thinking.

Total hope scores can be calculated by combining the pathways and agency subscales together – higher scores represent higher overall hope levels.

The Herth Hope Index (HHI)

Miracle question exerciseThe Herth Hope Index (HHI; Herth, 1991) is a 12-item instrument designed to measure a global, non-time oriented sense of hope.

Developed from the 30-item Herth Hope Scale, the HHI is based on the definition of hope as being a multidimensional life force characterized by a confident yet uncertain expectation of achieving a future good (DuFault & Martocchio, 1985).

The Herth Hope Index consists of three dimensions:

  1. Temporality and future – the presence of goals and a positive outlook on life versus fear of the future.
  2. Positive readiness and expectancy – a sense of direction and the ability to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
  3. Interconnectedness – a sense of isolation versus giving and receiving love.

Responses to the items are scored using a 4-point scale (from strongly disagree to strongly agree) with possible scores ranging from 12 to 48.

Are There Any Other Valid Tests and Assessments?

To answer that question, here is a list of other scales.

The Children’s Hope Scale (CHS; Snyder et al., 1997)

The CHS is designed to measure hopeful thinking in children and adolescents between the ages of 8–16. The self-report scale consists of six items measured across a 6-point scale ranging from 1 (none of the time) to 6 (all the time).

Three items on the CHS evaluate pathways thinking, for instance, “I can think of many ways to get the things in life that are most important to me” and three items examine agency, for instance, “I think I am doing pretty well.”

It is important to note that the CHS is intended to assess overall hope in children and adolescents; as such, the scale shows less reliability for individual subscales.

The Herth Hope Scale (HHS; Herth, 1991)

The HHS is a 30-item scale developed to capture the multidimensional aspects of hope from which the shortened HHI was developed. Items on the scale are scored on a Likert scale from 1 (never applies to me) to 4 (often applies to me). The HHS measures three dimensions of hope; cognitive-temporal, affective behavioral and affiliative-contextual.

Scores from the HHS will range from 30 to 120, and as expected, the higher the score, the higher the level of hope.

The Miller Hope Scale (MHS; Miller, 1986)

The 40-item MHS was developed to measure hope in individuals who survived a critical illness. Items on the scale are grouped into three components:

  1. Satisfaction with self, others, and life, “I feel loved.”
  2. Avoidance of hope threats, “I find myself becoming uninvolved with most things in life.”
  3. Anticipation of a future, “I intend to make the most of life.”

Scored on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree), total scores will range from 40 to 200, with higher scores representing higher levels of hope.

About Hope Interventions

Hope interventions focus on improving happiness, wellbeing, and positive cognition through carefully selected strategies. So who can benefit from hope interventions?

According to Jevne and Westra (1998), hope interventions are particularly valuable for clients with four primary concerns:

  1. The skidding effect – clients who are experiencing a loss of control.
  2. The bruising effect – clients who are experiencing a sense of hopelessness from failure or loss.
  3. The boomerang effect – clients who seem to have tried everything to make changes yet find themselves back where they started.
  4. The alien effect – clients who feel like no one understands them and find it difficult to connect with others.

Hope interventions have been successfully utilized in a multitude of clinical settings. For instance, Feldman and Dreher (2012) found that a single 90-minute hope intervention increased students’ hope, hopeful goal-directed thinking, life purpose, and vocational calling. Participants also reported greater progress on a self-nominated goal at a 1-month follow-up relative to control participants.

Shekarabi-Ahari et al. (2012) examined the effectiveness of a group hope intervention for mothers with children suffering from cancer. They found that hope interventions significantly decreased depression and increased hope while follow-up results showed depression decreased further after the intervention had been completed.

Similarly, Herth (2000) found that hope interventions improved both levels of hope and quality of life in people with a first recurrence of cancer, these results remained significant at 3, 6, and 9-month intervals.

4 Activities and Exercise Ideas

Excellent ideas and activities to instill hope as a daily companion.

Create a hope map

Creating a hope map helps clients articulate their high expectations for the future and develop a clear view of the barriers they will need to overcome in order to get there.

Hope Maps assist in the process of goal striving by encouraging a focus on clear and exciting goals, pathways and actions that will help in the pursuit of said goal, identifying and overcoming potential barriers, and maintaining motivation.

On reflection, a completed Hope Map creates a sense of confidence, energy, and excitement that comes with having multiple strategies to pursue goals.

You can download the Hope Map exercise from the Positive Psychology Toolkit© as part of over 400 tools, for an annual subscription fee.

Keep a hope journal

The exploration of hope can be facilitated through the self-reflective practice of journaling (Crain & Koehn, 2012). While journaling is a common practice for many, it is also an effective tool to improve wellness, foster greater self-awareness, and cultivate hope.

Writing about challenges, what gives hope and what could potentially give hope can highlight the factors which may impede the development of a more hopeful outlook. Hope journaling should be maintained for at least two weeks and can include entries about any factors that can impact the potential to foster more hope.

Exploring beliefs about hope

The objective of this exercise is to begin the process of thinking about hope and what it means to have hope. Write some hope-focused questions on pieces of paper and answer at random. The following are guide questions that can be used at home, with clients or with groups to explore the ritual of hope and evaluate different methods of expressing hope:

  • What does it mean to have hope?
  • What are the benefits of having hope?
  • In your opinion, what does a hopeful person look and sound like?
  • How have you used hope in your own life?
  • Are there any risks with having hope?
  • If a picture on your wall could remind you of hope every morning, what would that picture be?
  • What is the smallest possible change that could increase your hope?
  • Try to think about some communities or individuals that might benefit from hope?
  • Consider different ways of expressing hope within different communities. Do you think some methods would be more effective than others and why?

Your internal movie

The VIA Institute on Character suggests this simple exercise to help maximize the experience of hope when it matters the most – in everyday life. Invite clients to write a short internal movie in which a chosen goal is the protagonist.

Throughout the exercise, the visualization of barriers and obstacles that may occur during the process of achieving that goal will encourage the creation of alternative pathways around and through challenges.

3 Useful Hope Worksheets

The following worksheets can assist with improving hopefulness.

1. Hope Rising Worksheet

This worksheet focuses on the process of establishing desirable goals and improving motivation to achieve those goals through the language of hope. By describing goals in detail clients are encouraged to create one or more possible pathways to goal attainment.

  • Describe your goal in as much detail as possible.
  • How much do you desire this goal?
  • Describe why you want to achieve the goal. List what is motivating you.
  • Imagine you have just achieved your goal. Describe how you think you will feel in this future memory.
  • List the pathways (actions/strategies) you can use to achieve your goal.
  • Describe potential barriers for each pathway you listed.
  • Describe a time when you achieved a goal by overcoming barriers. What were the barriers and how did you overcome them?
  • Choose the best pathway and describe how you will overcome the barrier.
  • What are two or three things that must be accomplished for you to attain your goal?
  • Identify people and/or resources in your community with whom you can rely on as a source of support in pursuing your goal.
  • Describe something that motivates you (e.g., music, movie, a person). Think of how you can use this inspiration to help you to pursue your goal.

This worksheet comes from Hope Rising: How the Science of HOPE Can Change Your Life  (Gwinn & Hellman, 2019).

2. The Highest Hopes, Deepest Fears

The Highest Hopes, Deepest Fears group worksheet is designed to encourage the identification and expression of hopes and fears in adolescents. This worksheet can also help to decrease feelings of isolation in adolescents when utilized within a group setting.

By expressing their hopes and fears to a partner who then relays the information to the larger group, each participant has the opportunity to experience meaningful one-on-one time with another member and an understanding of the commonality of hopes and fears.

  1. Take some time to consider your five highest hopes and five deepest fears, and write them down.
  2. Invite the group to partner up and share their hopes and fears with one another, making sure they have a good understanding of what their partner means by the material written on his or her worksheet.
  3. Encourage partners to question and explore one another’s work in a kind and gentle way.
  4. Call members back to the group circle and ask each member to share his or her partner’s worksheet with the group.
  5. Discussions from the group should be encouraged.

This worksheet comes from Group Exercises for Adolescents: A Manual for Therapists and School Counselors (Carrell, 2010).

3. Hope Theory Worksheet

This worksheet focuses on hope as a cognitive and emotional concept that allows one to move toward goals, enhances motivation, and facilitates the development of a plan that will be actively carried out.

Hope: What is one goal you hope to achieve in the future?

Plan & Action: What small actions can you take that will start moving you closer towards this goal?

Believe: Write down 3 short sentences that will help remind you of your capabilities, for instance, “I am capable and resourceful.”

This worksheet comes from Kate Snowise (2016) and is derived from Snyder’s Hope Theory.

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4 Books on the Topic

There is a great selection of books on the topic of hope, and below is a sampling of four recommendations.

1. Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others – Shane Lopez

Making Hope HappenThis practical guide by world-renowned expert on the psychology of hope, Shane Lopez, reveals that hope is more than just a simple emotion; hope is an essential life tool and one that should not go unappreciated.

Making Hope Happen provides thoughtful and pragmatic ways for you to measure your level of hope and learn how to create and share it.

Available from Amazon.

2. The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get Here from There – Charles Snyder

The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get Here from ThereCharles Snyder has contributed immensely to hope research over the past two decades.

In this book, he examines why some people lead hope-filled lives and reveals the character traits that produce highly hopeful individuals.

Available from Amazon.


3. How We Hope: A Moral Psychology – Adrienne Martin

How We HopeIn this dissemination of hope, Adrienne Martin examines what hope is and how it influences our decision-making, the motivational resources it presupposes, and the relationship between hope and faith, both religious and secular.

Available from Amazon.


4. The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism – Martin Seligman

The Hope CircuitThe Hope Circuit takes you on a compelling journey through the history of psychology from the unique perspective of Dr. Martin Seligman – including his own vast contributions to the field of positive psychology.

An original collaborator on learned helplessness, Seligman discusses his own personal journey from learned helplessness to learned hope.

Available from Amazon.

A Take-Home Message

Hope is more than just a state of mind; it is an action-oriented strength. In the absence of this inner resource, how can we find the motivation to pursue our goals and the resilience to pick ourselves up when things go wrong?

Many people persevere with the idea that hope is an either/or proposition, believing that in order to have hope, all despair must be extinguished. While it is true that hope comes and goes, and there are times when we feel like all hope is diminished, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Through practice, patience, and hope-focused discourse, practitioners can help to make hope visible – not only to themselves but also to their clients.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Happiness Exercises for free.


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What our readers think

  1. Dr. Ronna Jevne

    I was very pleased to see your article on hope. I was disappointed to see the outdated references. For example Synder (1991) is 30+ years old. The field of hope research and hope focused practice has come a long ways since Synder approached it almost as a motivational concept. I was surprised to see no reference to Hope Studies Central https://sites.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/hope-studies/home which is celebrating its 30th anniversary as a research centre that studies hope. You might want to read a relatively recent article https://www.ualberta.ca/newtrail/research/seeking-hope.html providing some history of the works there.

    • Caroline Rou

      Hi Dr. Ronna,

      Thank you very much for your comment. Although we usually try our best to include the most recent research, we also find value in referencing back to the basics at certain points as well. I do, however, understand your concern and see that the references may be due for an update. We are currently in the process of having our articles scientifically reviewed. I will make a note of your comment and perhaps these changes will be implemented.

      I appreciate the article link! I will take a look.

      -Caroline | Community Manager

  2. ikechukwu nelson

    good morning from nigeria please can i get a work on hope everything on hope is urgent to help me carry out my research on that

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Ikechukwu,

      I’d take a look at this review by Scrank et al. (2008) for a useful starting point on this topic.

      Hope this helps!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  3. AAK

    Very very helpful! My sense of hopefulness got improved purely by reading this article .
    but i want to print this article . plz can you send my by email.

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi AAK,

      So glad the article was helpful to you. In an effort to help the rainforests, we don’t include a print option on our posts. However, we would love for you to share them with others. If you scroll to the end of the post and respond positively to the question ‘How useful was this article to you?’ several sharing options will become available to you.

      Hope this helps!

      – Nicole | Community Manager


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