Are Hopeful People More Likely to Embrace Sustainability?

How hopeful do you feel about the future of our climate? Chances are, you’re expecting things to deteriorate in the upcoming years, or at least not to get better, as most people currently believe. Yet, being somewhat pessimistic about what is likely to happen, doesn’t mean you cannot be hopeful. Put simply, hope refers to a desire for an uncertain event. Hope is about what we value, and what we’re willing to work for, knowing that the future isn’t in our complete control. As such, hope can be a strong motivator towards investing in our future. And this also means that hope often surfaces in times of crises and pessimism. And luckily so. Research has shown that hopeful individuals tend to exhibit several constructive patterns of thought and behaviour: they are generally more creative, innovative, healthier, more sociable and more resilient in times of adversity. These relations are partly explained by the idea that hopeful people are willing to work for a better, but uncertain, future.

So, are hopeful people also more likely to work towards sustainability? Recent research suggests this is the case. In this study, participants were asked to indicate how much they were willing to pay for green energy through a national tax. On average, the participants were willing to pay €22 per month (or about 24 USD) for the duration of one year. However, this amount differed depending on people’s level of hope, with high hope individuals paying on average over seven euros more than low hope individuals.

However, more hope is not necessarily better, at least in this case. If people’s hope was based on the idea that climate change isn’t such a big deal, their willingness to pay actually went down, so much so that high hope individuals with these convictions paid even less than those with the lowest hope-scores. Moreover, how hope affected sustainable behaviour partly depended on other convictions and knowledge. For example, hope appeared to be especially important for people who are very worried about climate change or know very little about the topic.

These results show us that emotions such as hope play an important role in determining our behaviour and, consequently, in our economy and society at large. Considering that the climate crisis is one of the largest challenges of our time, hope could play an important role in mobilizing people towards sustainability. However, as false hopes seem to be even more detrimental than hopelessness, it is important to remain realistic. So, while acknowledging that the challenges we face when it comes to our climate are real, urgent and important, it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that there are still things we can do; that our future is not set in stone; and that many people are united in their commitment to tackle the challenges we face. All in all, we need to remember that it is worthwhile to be hopeful.


Emma Pleeging (Researcher and PhD candidate at Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organisation)


Pleeging, E., van Exel, J., Burger, M. J., & Stavropoulos, S. (2021). Hope for the future and willingness to pay for sustainable energy. Ecological Economics, 181, 106900.


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