Finding Happiness by Abandoning Hope

I’ve always hoped for a better life. I mean, who hasn’t? Our Western gestalt has self-improvement or success defined as one of the primary gauges of happiness. It’s part and parcel of most protagonist story arcs in movies, TV and literature (not to mention the ever growing self-help industry) — hope, transformation, betterment, happiness. And those who lose hope are portrayed as being abject, dehumanized, and having nothing to live for. Hope is depicted as the thing that allows us to endure despite terrible circumstances.

But what if we are hoping for something which will never happen? What if we hope for an unrealistic circumstance or for some change that isn’t within our power to affect? Then our hope can keep us from moving forward, helpless, and can cause us undue stress and even sadness.

I’ve found within myself at times that there are old hopes and desires which have been sublimated into despondency — hopes with regards to my parents and my childhood for example. Having my parents get back together or for my mother to see me as a full person and not an object (see post Raised by a Narcissist), these are pointless hopes which I have clung to, quite stubbornly, I might add.

Considering that we are limited beings, our effort and time is also limited. By clinging to an outmoded belief or fantasy, no matter how appealing, we are figuratively tying ourselves to a stake in the ground.

That’s why I’m focusing on giving up hope and letting go of these things. Environmental activist and author, Derrick Jensen, went so far as to say that hope was a curse because it is defined as “a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency; it means you are essentially powerless.” Having hope allows us to remain victims instead of masters of our own actions.

Many years ago when I was travelling in Russia, I had a realization that the physical place I was in was not only always there in all of it’s impossible minutiae, but it was completely invisible when I was in the US. Not only that, the whole Earth itself with an infinite number of aspects and details, was invisible from a certain distance. The things which are so important to us here do not even register to someone else in another place.

How much the same is it with our own concerns, dramas, desires and daily issues? If we were not attached to these things, we could roam away from them and make them smaller in our field of vision. And if we were to travel far enough away, they would become less detailed, reducing eventually to a single point which would ultimately vanish. Then our vision would be filled with new things to look at, and new experiences to explore.

So perhaps there is a twofold process: First, we need to give up on the things we cannot achieve or change and then, second, focus on new challenges, new horizons and experiences, new knowledge and input. In a way it is a sacrifice of the concerns of the past for the growth of the future. Part of maturity is realizing that who we are is solely in our own hands, and not in the choices of the past because of circumstances outside of our control.

After my second marriage, I spent some time going to Codependents Anonymous (CODA) and I realized I was playing out old dramas in my current relationships, looking for someone else to not only deliver the emotional highs I was looking for, but the lows as well, playing the victim in order to feed into my own “poor me” script. I had to give up hope to ever recreate that drama — and really who would want to do that? It was a revelation that changed the course of my personal development.

I realized that internal drama is the enemy of happiness because it artificially creates a sense of threat to wellbeing based on past events as an attention-seeking mechanism where none is truly needed. Then the response, if not addressing the real issue, brings about its own side-effects. So when people turn to food, escapism, sex, egotism, drugs and other materialist analgesics, the result is a double-whammy: the original issue remains unaddressed and a physical or emotional degradation takes place. I wanted to get past the affectations and coping mechanisms that were taking up my time and doing me harm, to heal the original wound which started them in the first place.

After my realization in CODA, the serenity prayer had more meaning. Asking God for the serenity to accept the things I could not change made complete sense with regards to emotional attachments. And whether a person believes in God or a universal consciousness or nothing at all, the truth of being able to let go of the things which do not benefit our health and wellbeing still applies. Then the other side of that coin is accepting that courage is needed first to realize the things which we thought could not change, actually can be changed. Then courage is needed again to make those needed changes.

Happiness is a work in progress instead of an achievement. When you give up on hope, you turn away from fear, and fear is the barrier to fulfillment. A study was published in 2009 that showed chronically ill people fared better when they gave up hope. By realizing the cards they were dealt and play them instead of hoping for a better outcome, they became more upbeat and got on with their lives.

Here’s to all of us letting go of unrealistic hopes, and getting on with our lives. Isn’t it about time?

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Originally published at on January 29, 2016.

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