Mental health

Hope? What’s That?

"Never lose hope" spelled out with pebbles on the ground

I experience hope for other people, or in transient form related to things like the weather , but when it comes to anything more substantial to do with myself, it’s been a long time.

This is a direct result of depression rather than a consistent way of looking at the world. Back in the day, I didn’t need an actual reason to feel hope – it was just there.  The future looked like a very pleasant place.  Now, spontaneous hope seems utterly foreign.  Instead, I look for things that would provide some sort of basis for it, and I just don’t see anything.

Hope is by its very nature future-oriented.  I generally try to think about the present rather than the future, but when I do look into that crystal ball, it’s not a happy picture at all.  So why would I feel hope?

A paper in the journal Research on Social Work Practice says that mindfulness meditation can increase hope by decreasing stress.  That’s all well and good if stress is what’s standing in the way, but otherwise, I fail to see a connection between mindfulness and hope.  Mindfulness is about the present moment while hope is about the future, so I’m not sure why being present in the now is going to give me any confidence in positive outcomes in the future.

In my mind, there’s a difference between an absence of hope and the presence of hopelessness.  I see hopelessness as a more active emotional state that’s associated with despair.  It’s like the opposite of hopefulness.  Absence of hope is more passive; there’s just no apparent reason to feel any, and you get plunked down somewhere in the middle of hopefulness and hopelessness.

For me, the absence of hope isn’t connected with suicidal thinking, while hopeless despair can be.  Absence of hope has become my baseline state, while active hopelessness only flairs up every so often.  It’s been several years since my depressive illness became treatment-resistant and hope became a thing of the past, and it’s been long enough that it’s hard to recall what it felt like to have hope for my own future.

I’ve gotten used to a world without hope.  It’s a darker world than the one I used to live in, but I’ve adapted.

Do you see a difference between hopelessness and an absence of hope?

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43 thoughts on “Hope? What’s That?”

  1. I hadn’t thought about it like that before, but yes, hopelessness is not the same thing as a lack of hope. On a spectrum of hope, hopelessness would be at one extreme, hopefulness at the other, with lack of hope somewhere in the middle. Thanks for the food for thought. 💚

  2. I feel like all my energy is needed to be (or survive sometimes) the present moment and I don’t have the mental space to make plans or to see in the future.
    When I’m feeling better, I can, or I suggest a better future for me. I don’t know what will come true, maybe it’s just a mind game.
    For me not hoping feels less painful and less active that feeling hopelessness because somehow you need to ‘fight the hopelessness to even arrive in the present moment.
    I don’t know if I’m making sense here, my brain seems to be out there but not in the present moment.
    About mindfulness, I think it can help to be in the present moment, which could resolve some thoughts of worry about the future. Maybe that a state of more ‘at ease’ can spill over to the future, I don’t know. I guess a monk could provide you with a better answer 🙂

  3. I completely agree with you. What’s their to hope for when we are dealing with treatment-resistant disorders. Everytime I go to a doctor I hope, but most everytime, nothing changes, and Im left with nothing to hope for again. Its exhausting

      1. Do you find yourself fighting off the bitterness and the cynical defeatist attitude too? I know I do sometimes. I think along with the absence of hope, those often try to move in to take their place.

          1. Hi, Ash. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Some of us want to respond:

            “Hope seems like a trick. Expectations fucking suck” —AJ

            “Despair is when we think pain and suffering will never stop. Something always replaces it, even temporarily. We keep track to prove it to us” —DJ and E-squared

            “Is absence of hope a bad thing? Like, is a person supposed to have hope. I think it seems natural to not, and I want to validate your feeling if that’s okay” —SJ

            1. AJ – Expectations do suck. I would rather keep expectations low and get what I expect than expect something better and be let down.

              DJ and E-squared – It’s worked out that way for me every single time as well.

              SJ – Thank you, and I agree. It’s kind of like all the hype that we should be happy – happy is good sometimes, but it’s also okay to have other emotions.

  4. I do feel lack of hope most of the time and when I do actively think about the future I feel hopeless. I don’t think I ever had much hope for the future; even as a child I think I just vaguely thought things would turn out OK without having much of an idea how, but since the depression started twenty years ago there has been less hope and more despair. I even find coping with hope hard. When something good looks like it might be in the pipeline (career, relationship, whatever), I hate feeling hopeful because I just know it’s going to go wrong.

  5. If we classify emotions on a spectrum between indifference and emotional extremes, then yes, absence of hope is at the one while hopelessness on the other end. I think it’s similar with many feelings. Their absence just nourishes the void while the counterparts can create immense joy or despair. The lucky people are probably somewhere in between.

  6. Hey Ashley, Always good to see your posting. You mentioned mindfulness and your skepticism at helping you in having hope in the future. I in the midst of an 8 week MBSR self led course. The course content is helping me to stay focused on growing in positive awareness of my thoughts in the present and future. By pausing the ruminations, which, when thinking about the future are generally negative, it gives my mind a chance to notice its defaults and choose better. It is assisting me to understand what I do have control over and that starts by being fully present, now.
    Its not a miracle, but is helping to reshape my thoughts and giving me more control over them. It takes time and commitment, combined with faith and science, but for me its showing positive results.

    Best,

  7. Well, this is a difficult subject because people are so resistant to other opinions. I’m soon to be 59. I’m in chronic mild (ish) pain with things that have no real cure, like migraines. I’m going to have constant financial worries though not as bad as some people (i hope). There will be some nice moments with family and friends, movies and books. Then, I’ll get a horrible illness and die. Or get in an awful accident and die. My children will be sad for a long time. I don’t see what’s so great to look forward to.

  8. Interesting concept about lack of hope being between hopelessness and hopefulness, more like a neutrality than feeling total despair. I see what you mean!

    Well you know me–Pollyanna sunshine! 😀 Everything gives me hope! I can’t tone it down.

  9. I think I have a huge amount of hope when it comes to the big picture. I have never lacked belief that everything is going to turn out well. That all injustices will be undone, that all suffering remedied, that all losses restored. I do accept that not everyone wants what is good. It took me a long to time to come to terms with that. I see that on a temporary basis people are allowed to prove what is really in their minds and hearts. I expect that sinister attitudes will become more and more manifest. But I don’t doubt for a moment that justice will be carried out and for everyone who loves goodness and peace, someone far more powerful than us will render justice and make sure that our future is truly fair. I believe that there will come a day when every creature will be safe, secure and will thrive!

    On a small scale, I like to hope for the best with people. However, I feel as if I have seen all sorts, and I am not often surprised when people are disappointing. I try to remember that we all have bad days and weaknesses and just hope that we don’t become hardened in anything cruel.

  10. I’ve never thought of hope in any way other than say giving someone a gift and saying “I hope you like this.” I shall have to come back to this, re-read and give it some thought about how I feel about this.

  11. Yes, I see the distinction between hopelessness and lack of hope that you pointed out. Kind of like feeling neutral toward somebody isn’t the same as disliking them, but you do not actively like that person either. As a teenager and in college I felt so many extreme emotions…but now I tend to stay in that neutral range with most things.

  12. I think there’s a difference, and I think you described it very well in this paragraph: “In my mind, there’s a difference between an absence of hope and the presence of hopelessness. I see hopelessness as a more active emotional state that’s associated with despair. It’s like the opposite of hopefulness. Absence of hope is more passive; there’s just no apparent reason to feel any hope, and it plunks you down somewhere in the middle of hopefulness and hopelessness.”

    For me, I do feel a sense of hope in my life, though I will acknowledge it is not exactly a rationally acquired outlook. It in fact flies in the face of reason in many cases. But if I cultivate it, things have a way of looking up. It is probably different for you, with a major depression diagnosis. I’m more along the lines of, mildly bipolar one / hypomanic, and severe ADHD. With PTSD thrown in from having sustained severe trauma in the past. But my point is, I don’t tend toward depression by physiological nature, so I can only relate to your struggles as a human who struggles. I do grasp that you have embraced and are addressing this very well. Admirably, in fact.

  13. Mindfulness is one, by my opinion, very underestimated thing. It’s a really powerful tool for being in here and now. Thank you for mentioning it and for all of the downloads you’re offering to us for free. I really appreciate it.

  14. Being out of, and recovering from abuse led me to really reconsider Pandora’s box. I’d always assumed Hope was a comfort to humanity for all the awfullness that she released. But maybe Hope was just another nasty.

    Hope led me to stay. Hope led me to go back. It was only understanding the hopelessness that got me out 🙁

    Probably not applicable to others at all, but fir those who are still hoping like I did. Please don’t.

  15. I believe hopelessness is more of an enduring feeling. A sustained state of mind. Absence of hope is more temporary, something that comes and goes with varying situations. I’ve felt an absence of hope for mankind, for the planet, for politics ability to solve our problems but I’m absolutely not hopeless. What’s helped me is faith. It can renew our strength to be full of hope.
    “You have toiled in following your many ways, But you did not say, ‘It is hopeless!’ You found renewed strength.” (Isaiah 57:10)
    The Bible offers so much hope for the future. Believing in these promises provides hope that the world will one day be a peaceful paradise free of sorrow and pain. (Psalms 37:10,11; Revelation 21:3,4; Isaiah 65:17-25)

  16. Sounds good to me, so I’ll vote aye. What I do know for sure is that it is amazing how many forms that feeling crappy can take. The mind, the body, the mind/body, can be exquisite & evil all at once…

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