Hope can strengthen and support happiness. The Dalai Lama summed up this idea nicely when he said:
“The very purpose of our life is happiness, which is sustained by hope. We have no guarantee about the future, but we exist in the hope of something better. Hope means keeping going, thinking, “I can do this.” It brings inner strength, self-confidence, [and] the ability to do what you do honestly, truthfully, and transparently” (2013).
But there are different kinds of hope. One kind is effective at sustaining a state of happiness and one kind is ineffecitve. Read on to understand the difference.
When Hope Is Ineffective at Sustaining Happiness
When we make plans, we may feel empowered, happy, excited, and even hopeful. We often hope things will turn out the way we’ve imagined they will.
The Dalai Lama stated in his commencement address at Tulane University in 2013, “We have no guarantee about the future, but we exist in the hope of something better.”
Yes, we should always hope for a brighter future, but the reality is that the future is never guaranteed. This brings up two things to consider.
1. Hope can lead to anxiety
The things we hope for and plan for sometimes don’t happen as we envision. Becoming fixated on how we hope our future will transpire can become a source of anxiety and suffering rather than happiness.
Why? Because when the plans we were confident would turn out the way we hoped don’t live up to our fantasy, we can sink into unhappiness, melancholy, or anxiety. We may lose hope in hope.
2. The past and the future are just mental constructs
All we have at any given moment is the present. With this in mind, we need to learn to live in the present while hoping for a good future. If we become obsessed with making plans, we may lose sight of finding peace and happiness in the way things are right now.
This type of obsessive hope comes from living in the future instead of the present, and it’s ineffective at sustaining happiness. By only focusing on hope with no basis in the present, we set ourselves up for possible disappointment.
Should we never make plans then?
Of course not.
We can and should make plans. But we should set goals with the understanding that things might not turn out like exactly as we imagined, and we should strive to have a realistic hope for the future without missing out on the present.
This leads us to the kind of hope that effectively sustains happiness.
When Hope Is Effective at Sustaining Happiness
So how can we develop a more realistic understanding of hope—one that is effective at sustaining happiness in the face of everyday stresses, change, and disappointment?
If hope is to be effective at sustaining happiness, it must be built on the understanding and acceptance of impermanence. But what exactly is impermanence, and how can understanding it bring hope and happiness?
The word impermanent means “not lasting or durable; not permanent” (Impermanent, n.d.). Impermanence refers to the fact that plans, feelings, emotions, thoughts—our whole lives, for that matter—are in a state of flux.
One could even say that the only constant in this world is change. Change is unavoidable, and resisting that fact leads to suffering.
Now, this should not be a cause of despair. We can find hope in the fact that change is inevitable and that we can learn to “go with the flow” and make adjustments when plans don’t go the way we envisioned.
This can be difficult for individuals who have trouble relinquishing control. But once an individual accepts impermanence, it can bring hope, happiness, and peace of mind. Embracing the reality of impermanence will help one find hope in the present moment as well as in making plans.
In conclusion, this more realistic view of hope should be a focus of positive psychology. It’s the kind of hope built on an understanding of impermanence and the necessity of present-moment living, and it’s the kind of hope that will sustain happiness.
What do you think about this assessment of hope? Have you learned to accept impermanence in your life? If so, how? Let us know in the comments below.
Dalai Lama, (2013, May). Tulane University’s commencement ceremony keynote address [Transcript]. Retrieved from https://commencement.tulane.edu/his-holiness-14th-dalai-lama
Myers, D. G. (2014), Exploring psychology with DSM-5 updates (9th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Impermanence (n.d.). In American heritage® dictionary of the English language, (5th ed.). Retrieved September 6, 2015, from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/impermanence
What is Positive Psychology? (2015). Retrieved September 6, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/positive-psychology