“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”
– Joseph Addison
I am an ardent believer in hope. I have seen how hope transforms and saves lives. I would go as far to say that 90% of my job as a holistic psychiatrist is instilling hope in my patients. I have seen with my own eyes the power that hope has to heal. I am certainly not alone in this perception and there also happens to be a ton of studies on this topic which have linked hope to many different physical and emotional health outcomes, including: reduced risk of all cause-mortality, fewer numbers of chronic conditions, lower risk of cancer, fewer sleep problems, higher psychological well-being, increased positive affect, increased life satisfaction, increased purpose in life, lower psychological distress, and better social well-being.
I am a huge proponent of hope in every situation. However, I have been accused of providing “too much hope” for people who were “hopeless cases.” I have been told to stop telling people that there is always a chance for them to feel better and live a different life, when they clearly have no other options. I have been accused of selling false hope.
I have realized that this misperception may have to do with confusing hope with optimism. According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “optimism and hope are not the same. Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better.” Said another way, optimism is the belief that something will get better, and hope is the belief in the possibility that something will get better.
I believe that it is possible to retain hope, even in the darkest of situations. And this is not the same as being a chronic optimist (which I have also accused myself of being in the past.) A perfect example of this is illustrated in Victor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” where he describes how he maintained hope while being detained in a Nazi concentration camp. Victor Frankl emphasized that if you can find meaning and purpose in life, then you can always find hope. I couldn’t agree more.
When I think about having hope, I also am reminded of my own mortality. I was given the assignment in one of my Yoga teacher trainings to meditate for a week on this quote:
“I will have a final exhale and I don’t know when.”
At first, I though this was such a morbid thing to think about. And in fact, it initially made me feel quite uncomfortable and even sad. I will have a final exhale someday. You will have a final exhale someday. We all will. Does acknowledging that you could die at any minute mean that you should lose all hope for the future? No, I think it means exactly the opposite, in fact.
What I realized after meditating on this for some time is that remembering that your final exhale could come at any moment is actually the very best way to feel hope and excitement for the future. In fact, every time I think about my last exhale, I am filled with love and joy. I am able to fully drop in to the present moment. Acknowledging death is the best way to feel alive!
So, if you think that hope is dangerous, I would challenge you to think again. Having hope does not mean denying pain or suffering or even death. It means giving every one of those things a great big bear hug and their own parades. It is through acknowledging and embracing everything as it truly is that we are able to know pure love. Don’t just believe me, try it out for yourself. I bet you’ll discover that you gotta have hope!