Pessimists Can Thrive, Too: State Hope Improves Mental Health
Dr. Charlotte Witvliet
In positive psychology, the predominant conceptualization of hope focuses on specific future outcomes, which are achieved through willpower (the motivation to achieve a goal) and way-power (the ability to find many routes to reach a goal; Snyder et al., 1996). Optimism is the general expectancy of positive outcomes (Scheier, Carver, & Bridges, 1994). Chang et al. (2013) examined the intersection of trait hope and optimism-pessimism for predicting depression in adult, primary-care patients. Our purpose was to replicate and extend their findings in college students, predicting depression and flourishing. College students (N=255) completed self-report measures of state hope and hopelessness (Snyder et al., 1996; Dunn et al., 2014), and optimism-pessimism (Scheier et al., 1994). Scores were centered to reflect high and low levels of hope and hopelessness, and distinguish optimistic from pessimistic participants. Stepwise regression analyses tested our variables as independent and interacting predictors of depression and flourishing. State hope, state hopelessness, and optimismpessimism were independent predictors of depressive symptoms and flourishing. The significant interactions between each hope measure and optimism-pessimism indicated that the impact of state hope and hopelessness was more potent in pessimists than in optimists. In pessimistic participants that had high state hope or low state hopelessness, levels of depression and flourishing approached those that had otherwise been associated only with optimists. We discovered state hope’s powerful undoing effect on depression, as well as its ability to boost levels of flourishing in pessimistic young adults. These findings have applied implications for mental healthcare professionals who work with college students. The findings suggest that promoting the cultivation of genuine hope and of eroding hopelessness each play significant roles in decreasing mental illness and increasing mental health. Specifically, states of increased hope and decreased hopelessness can significantly alleviate depression symptoms and promote flourishing even in pessimistic students.
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