There seems to be a near epidemic of hopelessness in our country. This is unfortunate and unnecessary. Unfortunate, because hope is essential to mental and emotional health and life effectiveness. Unnecessary, because there’s no good reason to remain hopeless. We can all cultivate hope, if we choose.
I’ll eventually have several posts on how to do just that. But for this post, I wanted to start with the basics of what hope is and why it matters.
Hope may be defined as: Holding a desire with the expectation that the desire can or will be realized.
That last part is important because it shows that hope isn’t about wishful thinking or denying reality. It’s about recognizing that positive outcomes are possible. Which, of course, they almost always are since the future has yet to be written.
To put it another way . . .
The hopeful person recognizes that both desirable Outcome A or undesirable Outcome B may happen, but they choose to focus on the desirable Outcome A.
The hopeless person–who we’ll call the cynic so as not to confuse him with a depressed person–refuses to believe desirable Outcome As exist. He lives in a claustrophobic world of Bs and nothing but the Bs.
Why Does Hope Matter?
We shouldn’t allow ourselves to have the hopeless myopia of the cynic. If we want to be capable, happy, and even rational human beings, hope matters.
Here are some reasons why . . .
Hope Is Rational
As we saw, the cynic thinks and acts as if the future were predetermined, and that the outcome is sure to be negative. He makes himself a prophet, with only one prophecy: Doom!
Hope offers a rational counterpoint to this by reminding us:
- The future has yet to be written.
- The outcome might well be good. And . . .
- Anticipating only bad outcomes causes suffering, and perpetuates a passive, victim attitude about life.
Here’s another reason hope is rational: The doomsayers and gloomsayers are just plain wrong. People are richer, safer, and healthier than they’ve ever been. Humanity and the world are doing pretty great, and it’s getting better every day.
Hope Makes Us Better People
Cynics are rarely motivated to do good in the world or serve others. After all, they shrug, “What’s the point?”
It’s the hopeful, not the cynics, who build orphanages in developing countries, volunteer at soup kitchens, pick up litter off the street, and go out of their way to help others.
From the cynic’s perspective . . .
- Why practice forgiveness, if there’s no hope people can change?
- Why practice charity, if it’s only a drop in the bucket?
- Why hear out the person with different political beliefs when there’s no chance they have any valid points at all?
- Why try to be kinder when so many people are jerks?
- Why care when the world is going to hell anyway?
(None of this is to say cynics are necessarily bad people. They are the sad victims of their own choice of worldviews. But a worldview that tends towards extreme self-involvement.)
Hope Puts Us To Work
When you have hope that a desirable outcome is possible you’re more likely to take action and try to influence the outcome than you would be if without hope.
The hopeful person thinks:
- I could get that dream job . . . What can I do to up the odds?
- I could start my own business . . . How can I get the ball rolling?
- I could become financially independent . . . Where can I learn about investing?
- I could meet Mr. or Mrs. Right . . . Where should I look?
- I could write a book . . . What’s my outline going to be?
- I can make a difference . . . Where do I volunteer?
The cynic sees little or no point in any of this.
Hope Makes Us Resilient
Hope is forward-thinking.
When the setbacks happen, the cynic will say, “See! I told you so.”
The hopeful will say, “What can I learn from this?”
Hope allows us to more quickly get back up and dust ourselves off after being knocked down. It orients us to look for opportunities in challenges. And it fosters doggedness in the pursuit of our goals.
Hope Makes Us Creative
Think about it: The discovery and creation of every invention are predicated on the hope that the invention or innovation is even possible.
As a rule, the more impactful the invention or innovation, the more wild the hope. The Wright Brothers are one of countless examples of this. We take flying for granted now, but the idea of heavier than air human flight was ridiculed by all the nineteenth century experts, and pretty much everyone else.
But the Wright brothers had a wild, stubborn hope that they could do what everyone said couldn’t be done. So they thought, designed, created, tested, failed, recreated, tested again. Over and over, until on December 17th, 1903 their mad hope lifted off the ground and changed our lives forever.
Hope flies. Cynicism doesn’t even crash, because it never gets off the ground.
With hope, we look beyond what is and imagine what might be.
We envision. We experiment. We dare to try.
Hope creates creativity.
What is your experience with finding and cultivating hope? Why do you think hope is important?
Share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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