I have read so many new books and articles on mindfulness and living in the present. They all preach experiencing the moment, letting go of the past, and letting the future be what it will be. These are great ideas and I actually promote the practice of mindfulness and connection with the present moment, but the truth is, life is lived in all directions.
Life is a complicated mess of what was, what is and what is to come.
We live out this complex relationship with time and identity on a daily basis, and that is why hope, more so than mindfulness, is so important for us to grasp.
So What is Hope?
Hope is a perspective that keeps us moving forward. It is a condition of the heart that drives us to try again when we have failed over and over. It is the understanding that the future can be good and will be good because at some point we will be able to look back and it will all make sense. Hope is facing every challenge and struggle with the anticipation of ultimate meaning.
The discussion of hope is often shoved aside as something for religious people, but the truth is hope is an essential part of the human condition. It transcends rationalization and intellectualization and inspires us to accomplish great things. And ultimately, the pursuit of hope is a journey filled with happiness and amazing adventure that has the potential to inspire hope in others.
This idea of hope is so important because we have all seen and experienced the result when hope is lost. The result of lost hope is pain, disillusionment, depression, and in its most horrible manifestation, suicide. The face of someone who has lost hope is one of despair and stagnation.
If you have ever experienced a loss of hope, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Hope & Expectation
Friedrich Nietzsche tried to put hope in the role of villain when he said “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.” But the truth is, expectation is the true tormentor.
The difference between the idea of hope and expectation is distinct. Expectation is specific to circumstances and driven by wants and demands. Hope is a filter through which to view the circumstances and desires of the past, present, and future.
When expectations are not met, misery follows.
When you have lost hope it is easy to distance yourself from it by dismissing it as completely unrealistic and blind. This inability to acknowledge the potential for meaning, often couched in the idea that you are “preparing for the worst” is despair. Hope is a lens that is informed by positive ideas but balanced with facts and ultimately driven by the heart, not the head.
Hope does not say nothing bad will happen and everything will be great. It is the steadfast understanding that while life involves suffering, there will be continuous and spontaneous moments of joy and happiness which make it worth getting up in the morning. Despair gets out of bed looking for the struggle. Ignorance gets out of bed expecting no struggle. Hope wakes up with a smile knowing that in the midst of even the hardest things, there will be aspects that make life worth living.
You Can Choose Hope
Biological research that explores the functions of pessimism, worry, rumination, and fear has demonstrated that a negative outlook on life literally blocks the capacity to feel happy. This makes sense because you cannot feel the endorphin release of happiness when you are constantly spending energy on trying to protect yourself from imagined future pain.
Optimists have a long list of health benefits, but the one troubling fact of optimism is that it reduces the drive to protect yourself from negative consequences and has been shown to result, in some case, in earlier death.
And while these two general outlooks are handed to us by heredity and are rooted in cognition, hope is something you can decide to embrace. It is a decision of the heart and the will. It is the balance of these two imposters. You can start out on a journey knowing that there will be dangers and things to overcome but also choosing to remind yourself that there will be new people to meet, new experiences to have, new lessons to learn and exciting moments of enjoyment and empowerment. Hope is the bridge between fear and happiness and it is something we can choose to reach for every step of the way.
Photography by Jeff Meyer