Why Hope Matters

Dandelion seeds blowing on blue background. Wishing.
image: iStock / Getty

“I hope it’s sunny tomorrow.”

“I hope I can get everything done by lunchtime.”

“I hope my talk goes well and is helpful to the participants.”

These are things I’ve hoped for over the past day.

Everyone hopes. It’s one of the most natural things we do. We hope optimistically – for things we want or things we want to happen.

We also hope that we can cope in difficult times.

In fact, sometimes hope is all you have.

That’s what I found myself contemplating after my Dad passed away a few months back. He had a brain tumour. Glioblastoma multiforme.

There were times where we believed the treatment was working. Other times we weren’t so sure. But we hoped. Belief came and went. It changed. But we never stopped hoping.

Even right up until the final seconds of Dad’s life when his body was shutting down. I still hoped for a miracle.

In those final moments of Dad’s life, as I clung to hope as my last remaining sense of agency, I then released it and said a silent prayer to Dad that it was OK, that he could leave now. It was just the family here. In that instant, I found myself remembering that dying people sometimes open their eyes right at the end to say goodbye. At that moment, Dad opened his eyes.

Did my hope, and that of Mum and my sisters, somehow allow that possibility? Did our hope and longing communicate with some aspect of Dad’s consciousness. I hope so. I believe so.

Hope is a strange thing. Even in darkness, it’s a source of light.

It can ignite anywhere, even in places where willpower and positive thinking fall away. It’s the last thing you lose. There are times when it really is all you have left.

Hope can keep you afloat when you feel like you’re sinking.

Some say, “What’s the point in hoping? You’ll just be disappointed.” I get that. “Surrender to what is,” a friend once told me. “Hope just prolongs the pain. It keeps you trying to do something when you really should move on.”

Maybe we can do both. The skill in life is in knowing when to keep hoping and when to accept and move on.

But regardless, hope matters; quite a bit. Research shows that it can support mental health. Without it, as another friend colourfully noted, “you’re depressed as f**k.”

Hope gets us out of bed in the morning. It keeps us going, keeps us focused, motivated, and believing that we can have, do, or achieve something that’s important to us. It’s not just something that keeps us afloat, but something in everyday life that helps fuel a sense of purpose. 

Hope is healthy. It’s part of what being human is.

Psychologist, Charles Snyder, presented Hope Theory in the 80s. He defined hope along the lines of the perceived ability to do something or make something happen. In Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas said something similar. He wrote that hope is grounded in a desired future that is both difficult to achieve but possible.

But possible! 

No matter how difficult, hope is in the sense that it is possible. Even miracles happen.

Hope can exist even when you don’t know any way that a thing can happen. You hope anyway. Because you can hope for a seeming miracle. You might not believe it will happen, but you still hope.

Hope has psychological benefits. It can provide some present-time relief. One can rest in hope for a while when things around you seem to be heavy, confusing, or the opposite of what you want. You can recline back on the seat of hope for a while and shut out some of the world.

Studies show that hope can help build positive emotions. I’ve found this myself on numerous occasions, that hope can be like taking a breather from needing to have all the answers.

It’s been shown to counteract depression. Having suffered from depression a number of years ago, I know that life can, at times, feel hopeless. But then, a little glimmer of hope can be enough to give you a few good hours, or a few good days. Sometimes even to give you enough strength to accept help. Because in the absence of hope, we lack the belief that help can be any good.

Hope can give us a sense of purpose and direction. It can provide meaning. I recall writing my first book. It took me two years. I finished it early in 2005. Then, over the following months the book was rejected by every publisher I sent it to.

Some were kind. They explained that it just wasn’t a fit for their focus at the moment. They wished me well.

I felt dejected for a while, but then a friend, Richard Wilkins, suggested self-publishing. He’d done it with a few of his books. So that’s what I did. I didn’t know what I was doing, but hope kept me going and even got me over the finish line.

Hope and belief are connected. Hope is the seed that can grow into belief. There were times when I believed I’d make it happen. Other times I wasn’t so sure, but I still hoped. I hoped that no matter what obstacles were making themselves felt I’d still be able to do it. And that hope grew.

This was in 2005 when self-publishing was quite a bit more challenging than it is today because you pretty much had to do everything by yourself, all the things that self-publishing companies now do for you.

Hope can be contagious. It’s transferrable. When someone loses hope, your hope can be infectious. It can help them feel a glimmer of hope, and sometimes, even in the most difficult times, it’s just enough. Your light lights them up. It also takes away some of the loneliness that comes with feeling hopeless.

Hope has physical benefits too. In a study of almost 13,000 adults with an average age of 66, researchers at Harvard found that a greater sense of hope was associated with better physical health, reduced risk of all-cause mortality, fewer number of chronic conditions, lower risk of cancer, and even better sleep quality. 

It was also associated with better psychological wellbeing, including increased positive emotion, life satisfaction, greater social wellbeing, and a greater sense of purpose. And it was associated with less stress.

So hope is healthy on many levels; mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Don’t be afraid to hope, then. Yes, you might not always get what you want, but then again, you might.

Hope for great things, then. Set your hope loose.

Hope is the seed that might eventually grow into a great oak in your life.

Hope for everything you can dream of.

Who knows what might happen?

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  1. Janice Fraser on January 30, 2023 at 12:33 pm

    Hi. I was very interested in your blog regarding hope. I lost my son in 2020 who had battled drug addiction for a few years. Hope had kept be going through many dark times of dispair and worry. I thought things would change and he would recover. However when he died the hope had also died. I couldn’t believe how much that emotion of the not only the loss of my son but also the loss of hope had hit me. I was very aware of that loss as much as the loss of my son. It’s a very strong emotion that I agree can help us to just function at a difficult time but very different when you loose all hope.and you are just left heartbroken with grief.
    Thank you
    Kind Regards
    Janice Fraser

  2. Mary McManus on January 30, 2023 at 1:14 pm

    Dear David – What a great way to start off a new day and a new week! I love how you’ve woven together your experiences of hope, the ‘science’ of hope and how hope is a vital part of being human. We can use it as a lifeline during tough times but also as a way to create our lives. One of your best blogs! And yes to setting our hope loose.

  3. Sunrise on January 30, 2023 at 1:50 pm

    What an uplifting read. I hope to get to one of your talks one day

  4. Frank Sterle Jr. on January 31, 2023 at 12:03 am

    From reading informative/self-help books like yours I get the impression that many other readers have likely suffered to some degree an unhealthy or dysfunctional early childhood.

    In the book Childhood Disrupted the author writes that even “well-meaning and loving parents can unintentionally do harm to a child if they are not well informed about human development” (pg.24).

    I strongly believe that every parent should be knowledgeable about factual child-development science. Too many people will procreate regardless of their (in)ability to raise their children in a psychologically functional/healthy manner.

    Many people seem to perceive thus treat human procreative ‘rights’ as though they [people] will somehow, in blind anticipation, be innately inclined to sufficiently understand and appropriately nurture our children’s naturally developing minds and needs.

    So why not teach our young people? …

    When I asked a teachers union official over the phone whether there is any childrearing or child-development science curriculum taught in any of the province’s school districts, he immediately replied there is not. When I asked the reason for its absence and whether it may be due to the subject matter being too controversial, he replied with a simple “Yes”.

    This strongly suggests there are philosophical thus political obstacles to teaching students such crucial life skills as nourishingly parenting one’s children. To me, it’s difficult to imagine that teaching parenting curriculum would be considered more controversial than, as a good example, teaching students Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, beginning in Kindergarten, as is currently taught in many, if not most, Canadian public schools.

    Being free nations, society cannot prevent anyone from bearing children; society can, however, educate all young people for the most important job ever, even those who plan to remain childless.

    I would like to see child-development science curriculum implemented for secondary high school students, and it would also include neurodiversity, albeit not overly complicated. It would be mandatory course material, however, and considerably more detailed than what’s already covered by home economics, etcetera, curriculum: e.g. diaper changing, baby feeding and so forth.

    I don’t think the latter is anywhere near sufficient (at least not how I experienced it) when it comes to the proper development of a child’s mind. For one thing, the curriculum could/would make available to students potentially valuable/useful knowledge about their own psyches and why they are the way they are.

    Additionally, besides their own nature, students can also learn about the natures of their peers, which might foster greater tolerance for atypical personalities. If nothing else, the curriculum could offer students an idea/clue as to whether they’re emotionally suited for the immense responsibility and strains of parenthood.

    There’s so much to know and understand about child development (science) in order to properly/functionally rear a child to his/her full potential in life. I once read an ironic quote from a children’s health academic that, “You have to pass a test to drive a car or to become a … citizen, but there’s no exam required to become a parent. And yet child abuse can stem from a lack of awareness about child development.”

    By not teaching child-development science to high school students, is it not as though societally we’re implying that anyone can comfortably enough go forth with unconditionally bearing children with whatever minute amount, if any at all, of such vital knowledge they happen to have acquired over time?

    I can’t help wondering how many instances there have been wherein immense long-term suffering by children of dysfunctional rearing might have been prevented had the parent(s) received, as high school students, some crucial child development science education by way of mandatory curriculum. After all, dysfunctional and/or abusive parents, for example, may not have had the chance to be anything else due to their lack of such education and their own dysfunctional/abusive rearing as children.

    Since so much of our lifelong health comes from our childhood experiences, childhood mental health-care should generate as much societal concern and government funding as does physical health, even though psychological illness/dysfunction typically is not immediately visually observable.

    A psychologically and emotionally sound (as well as a physically healthy) future should be every child’s foremost right, especially considering the very troubled world into which they never asked to enter.

    Sadly, due to the common OIIIMOBY mindset (Only If It’s In My Own Back Yard), the prevailing collective attitude, however implicit or subconscious, basically follows: ‘Why should I care — my kids are alright?’ or ‘What is in it for me, the taxpayer, if I support programs for other people’s troubled children?’

    The wellbeing of all children — and not just what other parents’ children might/will cost us as future criminals or costly cases of government care, etcetera — should be of great importance to us all, regardless of whether we’re doing a great job with our own developing children.


    “It has been said that if child abuse and neglect were to disappear today, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual would shrink to the size of a pamphlet in two generations, and the prisons would empty. Or, as Bernie Siegel, MD, puts it, quite simply, after half a century of practicing medicine, ‘I have become convinced that our number-one public health problem is our childhood’.”
    —Childhood Disrupted, pg.228

    “The way a society functions is a reflection of the childrearing practices of that society. Today we reap what we have sown. Despite the well-documented critical nature of early life experiences, we dedicate few resources to this time of life. We do not educate our children about child development, parenting, or the impact of neglect and trauma on children.”
    —Dr. Bruce D. Perry, Ph.D. & Dr. John Marcellus

  5. Michelle Townsend on January 31, 2023 at 10:51 am

    What a wonderful Blog David. I love your Blogs. You have this wonderful way of connecting with, well the easiest way I can put it is… just being human, normal situations in each of our lives, if that makes sense. Hope is powerful, like you say, it’s sometimes all we have. In ‘hope’ I always feel I have nothing to loose and everything to gain by connecting with it. So thank you for this wonderful blog David, it really has been a powerful reminder. Thank you for sharing your experiences, it really does help us….well…. feel human. Blessings.

    • David Hamilton on February 1, 2023 at 8:37 am

      Thanks for your kind words, Michelle. That made me smile. 🙂

  6. Dawn on February 1, 2023 at 9:06 am

    I love your blogs and insight. I really related to a lot of what you said here. Knowing when to hope and when to move on, and also how hope is sometimes all you have. My husband was my voice of hope when I literally lost any hope that my life would improve. Then I’d get glimmers of my own hope, through proactively taking actions that would help me – even though I was only going through the motions at the time. Then things grew from there. I’m mid thirties and I’d never, ever been anywhere close to feeling without hope for my life before last year. I never want that feeling to return but if it does, I hope that by getting through the last year, I’ll have learned that regaining hope is possible!

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