“Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensable virtue inherent in the state of being alive. If life is to be sustained, hope must remain, even where confidence is wounded, trust impaired.”
-Erick H. Erickson

I’ve recently noticed an odd, strange and unsettling wave of hopelessness washing over a great number of people. It has been rearing its ugly head with friends as well as business associates. I hear its voice reflected at conventions and meetings at which I speak and in the check-out lines of the local businesses I frequent. It is the voice of fear – the killer of hope. If I asked you, “Why is this happening now?” I’m sure you could give me a dozen valid reasons.

How about you? Are you, like me, ever hopeful and believe, as did the late actor Christopher Reeve, that “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” Or have you been so beaten up by recent news events and other people’s opinions that you are filled with doubt and hold the view of the nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man.”

And, really, does it even matter? Does having hope really make all that much of a difference? The answer, oddly, may be “yes” and “no”.

The dictionary defines hope as “To wish something with expectation of its fulfillment,” “To look forward to with confidence or expectation” or “To desire something, usually with some possibility of fulfillment.” All that sounds fine but what most don’t consider is that in order to have hope, there must also be an underlying belief that whatever is hoped for may not become a reality. If there was no possibility of being disappointed, then hope would simply become a “belief” without doubt. In order to understand and choose the power of hope, you have to be aware of its mirror opposite – fear. Fear is a form of negative hope.

Hope happens when I see something and make a decision that it is desirable, realize that I may not get it, but continue to believe that there is still a chance of getting it. In order to move towards attaining what I want with action, I must believe that there is a reasonable chance of it happening, yet not so “reasonable” that I become complacent. There must be tension present between the possibility of being disappointed and the probability of attaining. There has to be balance, and sometimes that balance can get out of whack.

The same would hold true if I chose to be totally pessimistic and believe that it is better not to hope because, by not hoping, I can’t be disappointed. The problem with that scenario is that I don’t set up positive expectations and therefore do not prepare my mind to see what I need to see and attract the circumstance and people that may help me achieve what I hope for. I may create my own self-fulfilling prophesy.

Last month my wife and I were vacationing at my family’s fishing camp in Mercer, Wisconsin. One of our rituals is to go to a local casino for the marvelous Friday night all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. In order to get to that delectable dining experience, you have to walk by hundreds of glassy-eyed individuals pushing thousands of dollars into the slots in “hope” of hitting the jackpot. There would be nothing wrong with that if the hope of winning didn’t ultimately create disappointment for the majority of players and if they didn’t periodically return to ‘gaming’ in an attempt to achieve the big win. This can be a big downside to having hope.

As I see it, there three types of hope. The first is the negative, dark side of hope, the “hope of desperation”. In this, there is such fear that a person will do almost anything to satisfy the hope. The second type of hope is “optimistic hope”. Optimistic hope is mostly positive, although the thing that is hoped for may still have a low probability of being achieved. With optimistic hope, you have to be very careful because, when hope is exaggerated into impossible illusions, it can distort ambition (i.e. the casino) into “all or nothing” ultimatums. The healthiest form of hope is “realistic hope”. Here, there is a high probability that what is being hoped for may materialize.

The bottom line is that hope is a good, healthy emotion. It gives us courage, faith and the ability to dream and see true happiness. It provides us with the ability to fail, learn and try again. It gives us something to cling to when there is nothing left to believe in and keeps you going in life.

Here are a few tips to help you have hope:

  • Surround yourself with life-enhancers. Bring people in your life who are hopeful.
  • Set up positive expectation. You create and are accountable for your mental movies of the future, positive or negative. Take the time to recognize when you are looking at the future through the eyes of fear, acknowledge that, and change your picture. Hope at its deepest level is a “choice.”
  • Take action. Nothing gets done by wishful thinking. Take the small steps necessary to achieve your positive future visualization.

Here’s another good reason to have hope. Hope helps sow the seed of hope in others. You really do have that kind of influence. As the Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, “…just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings…hope, too can be given to one only by other human beings.”