Hope & Optimism

Hope & Optimism


27 December 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


A good friend was asked recently to prepare a few remarks for his church on the subject of Hope. As I had just completed my annual Holiday messages with a theme of Optimism, it started me thinking about how optimism might be different than hope, and how that difference might be relevant in conservation and fundraising.

The research journey was an interesting one. There was far more to learn about the topic that I would have imagined and there are hundreds of scientific papers on the subject.

According to the dictionary, optimism is “confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something; a tendency to take a favorable or hopeful view.” Hope is the “expectation of something desired; desire combined with expectation.”

They sound amazingly similar. But they are considered very different and not even really related. (You can be hopeful without being optimistic, and vice-versa.)

Hope is considered specific to a defined event or outcome, whereas Optimism is considered event-independent. And there’s also an implication with Hope that a pathway for getting there exists – that you can control or at least influence what happens. Optimism was an assumption of a positive outcome regardless of one’s own actions.

For a long time, Optimism was considered a genetic trait – that some people were just born optimistic. Research involving twins concluded that environmental factors are much more influential. And more recent research suggests that you can teach yourself to be more optimistic. Consider this article from Psychology Today:

Psychologists call it the “best possible self” visualization. In simple terms, it involves generating vivid images of positive events occurring in the future with you in the center of them. Here’s how the exercise works:

When you have at least 10 minutes of free time or more, envision yourself in a future that has turned out to be the rosiest that is possible (and feasible). It may help to pick a particular time-point in the future, say 10 years from now. In this future, you have reached all the goals you had set for yourself, you have climbed the pinnacle of your dream career, you have found the soul-mate and love of your life, you are in peak physical shape, you have friends who are trustworthy and caring, and so on. You get the picture. Visualize what such a future will be like and feel like to you in as much detail as possible.

At this point, there are dozens of studies showing positive results. What should we conclude from this research? Simply this: Even if you perform the best possible self-exercise just once, your optimism will get a temporary boost. And if you perform it repeatedly, say every night, or a few times a week, there will be a persistent spike in your optimism. What is more, your mood will also improve, and you will feel happier.


Both Hope and Optimism are considered positive mental states and correlated with personal resiliency, but Hope contributes more to emotional well-being. The idea that there is a path to success and that your own actions can make a difference is a powerful motivator for action – including giving money to a land trust.

And that’s where this really comes together for me. We need to be optimistic as fundraisers. We have to believe that positive outcomes are possible, or we won’t get very far. (My rose-colored glasses are always half-full.)

But we must also communicate that optimism effectively to our stakeholders – to communicate Hope.

As we turn the corner from 2022 into 2023, from Winter into Spring, and from darkness into light, let’s all do a body-check on our own levels of optimism and hope. Let’s visualize a future where we are raising the money our organizations need to survive and thrive. Let’s get in touch with our own sense of hope – that a pathway exists and that our own actions can make a difference. Will make a difference. That we have “agency.”

And let’s collectively communicate that Hope to our various constituencies. That their actions can make a difference. Will make a difference. That they have “agency” too.

We will raise more money. We will accomplish more on the land. And we will grow.


Happy New Year everybody! Here’s hoping 2023 is a great one for you.

I’m optimistic.



PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.

Photo by Skitter Photo courtesy of stocksnap.io.


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  • Jay Addison
    Posted at 14:38h, 27 December

    Wishing you a Hopeful and Optimistic New Year! Thanks for all you do.

  • Marc
    Posted at 09:21h, 27 December

    Thank you David, this is an awesome New Year’s reflection!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 12:14h, 27 December

      Great to hear from you, Marc. Thank you so much for your comment.

  • Renee Carey
    Posted at 08:23h, 27 December

    It’s been a couple years, but “Making Hope Happen,” by Dr. Shane Lopez, is a good easy read. It was required reading for me, but I then bought copies for a couple of friends and family members who are teachers. The book discusses how to build your “hope muscles” (my words, not Dr. Lopez’s).

  • A.B.
    Posted at 08:06h, 27 December

    What a thought-provoking post! In addition to the hope / optimism stew, I notice that the very notion that there is a “good” future — a “forward” direction where goals are met and all is well — features prominently in our understanding of both hope and optimism. What would hope and/or optimism look like if there were nowhere to get? If “more” or “better” were removed from the mix? Thank you for the prompt to think so deeply this morning.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 12:13h, 27 December

      One thing I found interesting about optimism is that it is event independent. That also means that optimism is independent of time, of course, except that the context is in the future. We can be optimistic about the future of this afternoon just as much as we can about the rest of our lives.