About a year and half ago, I wrote a post about hope. I felt that hope (much more than that other four-letter word — love) makes the world go round — or at least get out of bed. I still stick to the premise that hope — the anticipation that a desire will somehow be fulfilled — leads people to tackle difficult problems, and try to improve their lot in life. Recently, however, I had a conversation that gave me pause for thought.
A friend has been trying to improve her marriage for many years. She and her husband have raised a family, built a home, and contributed to their community, but their relationship is that of housemates who share a living space but have separate lives. They tried counseling, getaway weekends, trial separations, date nights, and long discussions and all they got were awkward moments and arguments. No amount of effort forged a new connection, improved their communications, drew them closer. Finally, my friend threw in the towel. She accepted the marriage was never going to be more than what it is now. stopped hoping that the marriage would change and become a loving union. It was a waste of time and tears to hope for what would never be. She stopped hoping and started coping.
In my own life, I have recently questioned if hope is always that helpful. Sure, hope can get you motivated to make changes, stay the course, and tolerate living when life is crummy, but what about when you hope and work hard and your efforts are never rewarded? If you are constantly disappointed, shortchanged, irritated, and exhausted, is hope worth the hard work? When does hope become pointless, delusional, or simply counterproductive?
Hope can help us pursue dreams, but it can also have us squander time, energy, and money on dreams that will never be anything more than dreams. Our resources could be better spent dealing with the situation at hand as it is right now. Of course, that begs the question: When do you accept the fact that the here and now is also the future and you cannot change it?
It is not always clear. You cannot always know if what you are hoping to happen is going to happen. It could take years for your career to take off and then you are a success — or you might never succeed. That new cancer treatment could work — or kill you. Your boss could see things your way — or fire you. So when do you stop hoping and start accepting? I am reminded of what the late advice columnist Ann Landers would tell women wondering if they should leave their husbands: Are you better off with or without him? Sometimes, we need to leave hope out of our decisions. Sometimes, it is best to stop hoping and start coping. Sometimes, we are better off without hope.