The psychobiology of optimism and how to promote it in our lives

The incessant need to plan dominates nearly every aspect of our lives, dictating the choices we make and how we react to obstacles. It is easy to feel depleted by the bombardment of exams and courses, and we may even start to question whether it is feasible to continue working toward our goal. These droughts of hope often are accompanied by storms of anxiety and depression, making the situation worse. Luckily, biology is on our side. Understanding what makes us hopeful and optimistic on the psychological and molecular level can be the key to altering our mindsets, allowing us to get through those rough patches of self-doubt.

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology defines hope as a belief system that promotes a sense of purpose toward a specific goal and a positive drive to achieve it. According to a Q4 2002 Psychological Inquiry article, the sensation can be measured using the “Adult Hope Scale,” a questionnaire that analyzes the level of agency, or energy put into pursuing a goal, and the pathway, or the specific plan toward accomplishing the goal. The greater the agency and pathway, the greater the hope. Optimism, often mistaken for hope, is the belief that the future holds more positive outcomes than negative ones, according to the Health Psychology article, “Optimism, coping, and health: Assessment and implications of generalized outcome expectancies.” Essentially this means that the metaphorical glass is half-full more often than it is half-empty.

Finish reading this article in the September 2018 issue of Contour magazine.

~Rachel Kogan, Pennsylvania ’23

Rachel Kogan

Rachel Kogan is a student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, graduating in 2023.

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