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We all have been advised at one time or another by a well-meaning person to “never give up hope!”  or have heard something along the lines of “when you’ve lost hope, you’ve lost everything.”

What if it is the hoping that keeps us from finding peace and happiness?

Think about that one for a minute.

What is hope?  It is a kind of wanting, wishing, and dissatisfaction with the present.  It is a desire for our life to be different or better somehow. It is wanting to be there instead of here. It is the old “grass is greener on the other side” in action.

It is the resistance of the present causes pain and struggle.  To find fault with and highlight what you consider to be less than ideal – maybe even far, far less and justifiably so – only causes more misery.

What will alleviate the suffering and pain and crack the door for peace and happiness to enter is acceptance. Not hope, but acceptance.  The idea is to accept every single, ugly detail of the current situation while intending and working to create a better one.

Acceptance is not the same as resignation.  

Acceptance is recognizing what is present, consciously choosing your thoughts about it, and having a willingness to work with it, as it is, to move forward.  One study found chronically ill people to be happier when they actually gave up hope that things will improve.  (See Chronically Ill May Be Happier If They Give Up Hope)

Some of the best tools I have found to work with the present situation and any accompanying, challenging emotions are visualization, affirmations, meditation,  thought reframing, and Byron Katie’s The Work.

I learned this hard truth in the years I spent recovering from a serious brain injury which was the result of a suicide attempt.  Immediately after, my sons went to live in a different state with their father, and, without a significant other, I was left alone.  Life was very bleak and painful, at first.  Over the years that followed, I learned to reframe my thoughts and to see my situation differently.  By not dwelling on the negative thoughts while hoping for something different, I was able to drastically relieve the suffering and pain.

I learned to take conscious, definite action towards creating more desirable circumstances for myself instead of hoping for them.  My focus and energy became invested in doing, not in hoping.  Instead of spending my energy trying to force one outcome to happen just because it was the one that I preferred, over time, I saw that staying open to and accepting of what materialized, even if was not what I wanted – especially then – and finding the wisdom in it, proved to be a much more successful strategy.   Whatever unfolded became the tools with which to create a better reality for me.

Amazingly, there was always some good to be found, somewhere, even if the circumstances seemed terrible and made absolutely no sense upon presenting themselves. I learned to ask myself “How can I make this work for me?” and place my thoughts and energy in that direction instead of bemoaning the circumstances. (see blog: One Little Question)   Every situation always presents this choice.  Your choice can make the outcome more positive and make the experience more pleasant as you move through it.

Right smack dab in the middle of the muck and mire of life, even at its very worst, it is possible to find happiness and peace because these qualities are in your mind.  They exist in your thoughts ABOUT what happens, not in the actual happenings. Happiness is not in hope.  It is in your thoughts and actions.  It really is as simple – not easy – as that.

image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ladyvendetta/6005776916/

28 Comments

  1. rebecca bejarano Reply

    very well said and recieved thank youi so much for this perspective..sooo helpful.. peace to you and yours..rebecca

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Rebecca. I expect to get some resistance to this one.

  2. I am very sad fro you that you do not seem to have experienced or appreciated hope. Having hope does not mean being unhappy or unsatisfied and is not necessarily about self. It can be altruistic and healthy.

    So you are saying we should give up on hope and dreams? And tell ourselves we are happy? No thanks. I would rather live happily and keep striving. This reframing stuff removes the potential for faith, the miraculous, and and for the human ability to overcome obstacles. I would rather keep hope and keep striving.

    Your argument, like so much NLP type stuff only works for pampered people in pampered countries. Human beings have the will to survive, why don’t you take a trip somewhere where people really suffer, to famines, conflicts, or extreme poverty, where people do make incredible altruistic sacrifices and have only hope? Why don’t you look into the faces of those who suffer or have suffered and overcome, and try telling them not to hope? I hope you would change your view.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you for your comment. I respect your point of view. There is no reason to be sad for me. Your view works for you as mine does for me. Neither is right or wrong.

      I sustained a very serious brain injury 5 years ago. In the hard years of my recovery, alone and impaired, I learned to give up blind hope and to work to make things better for me while accepting the realities and circumstances that were before me. Wishing and hoping for things to be different – for my kids to come home, for my speech to be clear, for my hands to work like they used to, to be able to remember – only caused more pain and dissatisfaction. Hope focuses on what is wrong and wishes it were different.

      I think there is a fine line between just hoping and being optimistic while working to make a better existence while also accepting whatever happens. This is different from hoping because hope sets up certain expectations, a goal, an end prize which creates disappointment and pain when it does not come to fruition.

      I would encourage people to never quit working to better their circumstances or to quit being optimistic. Yes, you are right, without that, some have very little. Sometimes, this may mean accepting that a famine must be endured or that a disease is fatal or that being in a wheelchair is part of the reality. Once accepted, then the person can get on with making the most of their life with the circumstances that are there whether it be a disease, famine, extreme poverty or living life in a wheel chair instead of putting their energy into hoping and trying to change the circumstances.

      Life is about learning to dance in the rain, not waiting for the storm to pass.

    • I remember this situation debated in the Shawshank Redemption when Andy and Red talk about how powerful hope is.
      It seems at first that Red had given up hope, after his parole being rejected so many times and the events that had happened throughout the movie, but for Andy, it appears that he kept hope throughout the movie as he made life in prison better, and always looked forward to getting out, and ultimately escaped, and his sense of hope gave Red hope again.
      Andy: [in letter to Red] Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
      Red: [narrating] I find I’m so excited; I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.

      • Debbie Hampton Reply

        William, thank you for the example from Shawshank Redemption. Good movie! I do think hope, when used properly, with reasonable expectations, is a good thing…except when it’s not. 🙂 Like anything in life, it can be a detriment or benefit. It is all in how you use it.

  3. Once again “nailing it” with your tremendous aptitude for finding the heart and the truth in all that matters.
    As Iove forward in this life, these words are overwhelmingly true and it flows through every fabric of our lives.
    Thanks again for making me “think” and putting things in such clear concise terms everyone can “get”.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks much! I aim to please. 🙂 I think you get that I am not saying to not be optimistic and work to make a better reality for yourself. I am saying that hoping sets you up for all kinds of pain and sometimes you just have to look around and find the joy (or make it) and abundance that is right there in all the ugliness and accept and be happy with that.

  4. Debbie, I have found that it’s not so much that one gives up hope but that they don’t focus on the hope. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring and if it doesn’t bring us what we hope for quick enough we suffer. As Byron Katie states we suffer anytime we desperately want what we don’t have. So as you suggest, we focus on the present and learn not to focus on our needs. Why suffer. In my book, Ascent into Hell, I spoke about going deep inside and uncovering those things about ourselves and our lives that are incongruent with the happiness we want to experience. We then, through training, not only learn to accept what we don’t like, but we learn to love and revel in them. Then we experience freedom and happiness. And it’s not wanting something better. It’s an acknowledgement, that at that specific moment we can not have anything else or change our present situation. It says nothing about the future. In fact, there is no such thing as a future. The future exists only in our mind as does the past. They are figments of our imagination. The only thing that does exist is the present, so we better learn to love whatever it is if we expect to experience happiness. This is what people miss. I think you did a fabulous job of explaining it. Another great blog.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Good distinction, Tony. It is not the having hope that impedes progress and causes pain. It is the focusing on it and the attachment to the outcomes.

      I think that I feel more comfortable calling what is needed an attitude of healthy optimism. Have an attitude of optimism, work for different circumstances, and be open to and ready to work with whatever unfolds. In many cases, I have found, what presents itself is different than what was hoped for or expected, but can be even better if received openly.

      Good points about the future and the past existing only in our minds. I totally concur. I find it most beneficial to focus on the present and not let the past or future influence my life heavily.

      Thank you for your thoughts.

  5. Really enjoyed how you view hope as a conscious decision rather than some sort of vague emotion. When I hit absolute rock bottom in my life it was a whisper of hope that kept me alive. It was the whisper that said ‘You can do this’, not the idea that hope itself would make things right.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Carolyn, thank you for your comment. I like the clarification you make between the idea of hope and the conscious decision to have hope. It is the difference between wishing things were different and the motivation to make things different, I think.

  6. Pam Blackburn Reply

    So brilliant, Debbie! Thank you for sharing, so personally, your experiences and knowledge with us. I have been in a dark place, and, at the time, thought hope was all I had. It is now, as you so eloquently stated, that I realize it was more my attitude about my situation that made all the difference. Sometimes we (I) complicate what is truly simple…adjusting our attachment to our thoughts…and hopes. Wonderful blog!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Pam, thank you. Your words and support mean a lot to me knowing that you have earned your perspective and wisdom “from the trenches” as well. We cannot loose our optimism and motivation to make things better, but we would do ourselves a favor to loose our attachment to hope.

  7. Hi, thank you for this! You express what I have been trying to explain to friends. That I do not hope for more but am working on living now. They tell me I am pessimistic and it will get me nowhere. Yet I notice I feel so much better living with what is here rather than dealing with images of how things might turn out or how I would like them to turn out. Next time I’ll refer them to you 🙂

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Myrte, thank you for your comment. You have already found this to bring more peace and happiness to you. While it is a difficult concept to explain, it is not pessimism. I saw something this morning that I think expresses it perfectly. “Positive thinking is not about about expecting the best to happen every time, but that accepting whatever happens is best for that moment.”

  8. Hi Debbie,
    Just found your site recently and it’s very helpful! I noticed that there is no index of all your articles, and was wondering if you would consider putting one up, so we can have access to ALL your great writing!
    Keep up the great work, and congratulations on all your success!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Lin, thank you for your kind words. I do not really know what an index of the blog articles is or how to do it. I will look into it. Thanks for the suggestion.

  9. Hi Debbie,

    This is a deep message. Like the study of people who are chronically ill, I too have found that giving up hope of getting better and, on one level, ignoring chronic illness has made me better. I agree with your perspective entirely, Debbie. Letting go is no resignation, but unfolding into the fullness of life.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks, Sandra. I like how you phrase it as “unfolding into the fullness of life.” I too believe, that it is these challenges, these bumps, the uncomfortable places (as well as the good and everything in between) that give life its texture and richness.

  10. Wonderful post. I find myself trying to explain these concepts to people and have a lot of trouble making myself understood. I personally am a goal setter and am big into rewarding baby steps.
    I think I don’t hope for magical changes in my situation. More like I need to get myself places but I hope I do get my drivers license back so what do I have to do next?

    Hoping, planning, planning again, working and achieving and starting over are all mixed up when I try to explain concepts like acceptance & hope and recovery & adaptation.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Linda. Yes, it is a difficult concept to explain to someone without sounding like a doom and gloom pessimist which does not correctly interpret the idea at all. We do have to celebrate the small victories and then, set figure out the next step.

  11. Gail Henry Reply

    Thank you. You have articulated something that has been in my mind. Be well. (I just subscribed – I really like your writing/page – it brings a lot of thought into my life, which I enjoy.)

  12. brilliant.. 🙂
    I enjoy your posts .. way too inspiring .. (Y)

  13. Pingback: When Being Positive Is A Negative | The Best Brain Possible

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