There’s good hope and bad hope. Here’s how it can be harmful and sabotage you. Throughout history, hope has been viewed favorably, as virtually essential to our welfare. True, many writers have inveighed against “false hope.” But it’s generally been perceived as a positive, almost essential, motivating force. And in any case, it seems inextricably woven into the fabric of human nature.
Put simply, not all hope deserves to be regarded as advantageous; an asset. And because its positive facets are much more publicized than its adverse ones, this post will focus on why it’s a good idea to be mindful of how certain kinds of hope—as well as degrees of hope—can wind up defeating you. For, as the acclaimed German philosopher Nietzsche (admittedly) overstated the case: “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.”
So, let’s examine the many negatives that have been linked to hope, so we can better grasp the at least partial truth of Nietzsche’s extraordinary pessimism about this expectational feeling.
1. Hope Can be an Inherently Biased Ideal.
Overall, it’s better to have a positive, or optimistic, bias than a stubbornly negative one. But ideally, when we make an evaluation or come to a conclusion, we ought to base our judgment on logic and rationality—rather than on hope, desire, extravagant fantasies, or a relentless longing for change.
If we lived in a utopia, and so were justified in believing that whatever we wanted would inevitably materialize, then we wouldn’t need hope at all. But given the actual world, we inhabit, we’re better off avoiding as much biased hope as possible.
Finally, if we want to succeed and feel fulfilled in life, we need to temper the idealism that “grants” us hope with the hard, unalterable facts of reality.
2. Hope Can Set Us Up for Disappointment and Defeat.
The emotion of hope pertains to that which hasn’t yet transpired. So it’s only natural that the more favorable our expectations of the future, the greater will be our disappointment—or disillusionment—when these expectations aren’t met or are irrevocably crushed.
In this sense, it’s much better to consciously restrain our hopes so we can also limit the hurt that a defeat, failure, or setback likely would engender. Hoping may be pleasurable, but hope being defeated can be quite painful.
Consequently, it’s useful to keep in mind that anticipating favorable results is not without its hazards and that these risks are best reflected upon in advance.
3. Hope Can Hamper us From Adequately Preparing for Negative Outcomes.
A flexible, forward-looking mindset is almost always preferable to a rigidly fixed one. But there are many situations in which a realistic acceptance of a possible (or likely) negative outcome is more beneficial than clinging to a hope counter to what is quite probably (if not certainly) going to happen. If the odds of a favorable outcome are little to none, it just makes sense to moderate our perspective so that it’s more in line with real-life eventualities.
If you’re definitively diagnosed with terminal cancer, for example, and resolve to begin making peace with your mortality, accepting the fate that sooner or later awaits you, you’ll thereby optimize the chance of experiencing “a good death.” You’ll say your fond farewells to loved ones, express feelings that till now you’ve kept buried, and tie up whatever loose ends in your existence you can, completing your days in a state of gratitude for everything life offered you—even as you reconcile yourself to what it didn’t. Realistically, the only way to “triumph” over death is to embrace it as an intrinsic, though terminal, aspect of life.
4. Hope Can Be like Prayer: Wishing for Something Rather Than More Forcefully Working Toward it.
Not always, but definitely, sometimes, hope inhibits taking necessary, or advisable, action. That is, hoping or praying for something doesn’t in itself imply doing anything about it. Rather, it can keep you in a holding pattern rather than prompting you to act to “achieve” your hopes.
5. Hope Can Encourage You to Forfeit Personal Power and Control.
Closely related to the above, passively hoping for the desired outcome can be tantamount to relinquishing any responsibility for making it happen. Resignedly, you could be giving yourself the message that you can’t do anything about the situation when, quite possibly, you actually could. Once you give something over to an external force, then, practically, you’re “surrendering” to it.
So far as I could determine, this hypothesis has yet to be researched, but it’s reasonable to assume that the motivation to give one’s all to an upcoming challenge would be diminished by that person’s looking for some deus ex machina to almost magically intervene on their behalf. Too often, hope is susceptible to drift—or degenerate—into mere wishful thinking.
6. Hope Can Be a Tool of Self-Deception.
False hope is a hope that has no meaningful basis in reality. It’s self-deluding, and eventually, it will probably end up sabotaging or defeating you. So you need to ask yourself whether what you’re hoping for makes any legitimate sense, or whether it simply makes you more gullible. For when hope literally runs away with you, your ability to see things clearly—and with just the right degree of skepticism—is seriously undermined.
Consider, for instance, hoping that you’ll win the lottery (after all, someone’s got to win!) or, more generally, standing up to forces far more powerful than you and with the law on their side. Such excessively aspirational hope isn’t only irrational, it’s also imprudent and can at times be dangerous. For it can increase the risk that you’ll get into more trouble than you might already be in. What is it but hope that creates our most wondrous, but farfetched, fantasies? But, enjoyable as they may be, to the extent that they’re over-the-top, it’s wise to maintain them as fantasies only.
7. Hope Can Set Us Up for Hopelessness.
When hope is defeated, and possibly repeatedly defeated, it’s vulnerable to be replaced by hopelessness—or downright despair (which means the complete absence of hope). And once hope weakens or vanishes, it’s all the harder to take action that could be effective in helping you reach your goals.
On the contrary, if you proceed in your endeavors without hope, independently striving to accomplish whatever objectives you’ve set for yourself, you’ll be taking full responsibility for your future. And regardless of whether you succeed or fail, you’ll be able to attest to—and maybe even congratulate yourself for—all the industry, zeal, and perseverance you put into your attempts. That’s finally far more affirmative than “helplessly” depending on providence to enable you to overcome personal obstacles. Though putting your trust in hope can be extremely tempting, diligently applying yourself to what you most care about is a much more reliable way to prosper in life.
To conclude, it’s not bad to hope—if, that is, you hope wisely. Still, if you earnestly dedicate yourself to what you want to happen, not really trusting in hope but (self-confidently) in your own tactical and prudent efforts, then hope may become redundant—and even be an impediment. As already indicated, when your hopes are false or unrealistic, you can end up feeling not simply frustrated and disappointed but also angry and resentful . . . and possibly embittered as well.