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Realistic Sources of Hope

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Martin Luther King said, „If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.“

Alas, life’s travails can make one lose hope. Here are, I believe, legitimate sources of hope when it would seem there are none:
Physical illness. Let’s say you have end-stage cancer.The doctors have told you that additional treatment isn’t worth the suffering and cost, and that you have just a few months left. A source of hope for you exists in this very hour, even this very minute. Could you hope to make a difference in someone’s life right now, for example, by writing a note to a relative or phoning a friend to offer to help them or ask them to help you? Or could you find hope for the next generation by visiting a nice school and watching the children on the playground? Or, if you’re religious, might you find hope in believing your disease is a loving God’s will that serves a greater good and/or that you have hope for a greater life in Heaven?

Mental illness. Let’s say you suffer from major depression. You’ve tried a range of drugs, even had electroconvulsive therapy. There are new, promising treatments for example transcranial magnetic stimulation and deep brain stimulation. And even if there’s nothing now, thousands of very smart people are working long hours to find better treatments. Until then, if you’re too depressed to do more than lie in bed, you might find hope in small things: the budding tree you see from your window, the TV news of a lost child found, or even the Bible’s words of hope, for example, “In God’s great mercy…kept in heaven for you…rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (I Peter 1: 3-6.)

Long-term unemployment. Let’s say you’ve been unemployed for years, applied for hundreds of jobs and gotten none. To gain confidence and momentum, take a job, any job: flip burgers, be a Wal-Mart greeter, clean hotel rooms, mow lawns, drive a cab. Can’t get or don’t want those? Volunteer, help a family member. Think of that first work not as a dead-end but a launchpad. That’s a legitimate source of hope.

Bad relationship history. You’re 0 for umpteen in romantic relationships but you still want one. Hope lies in the lessons learned. List all those relationships. What could you learn from each: Cut your losses earlier? Wrong type of person? Falling for a someone you hope to fix? Do you need to be kinder and a better listener? Less selfish? More?

Now think about where your Mr. or Ms Right is most likely to be found: volunteering, in a course, on a cruise ship, in a dance class, a set-up from your friends, a relationship ad? Tip: In your ad, include your weaknesses that your partner would have to accept in you and weaknesses you could accept in your partner. As my mom used to say, “There’s a cover for every pot.”

The world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. The media disproportionately covers the bad stuff. But as Harvard’s Steven Pinker points out, crime and war are actually in decline. Also, there is much good in the world: nature, music, games, some people, and yes, Psychology Today articles. Look for the good and you will find hope for the world and for your existence.

You’re suicidal. That’s the ultimate lack of hope. You feel nothing matters. But it does. You do. To at least one person, perhaps more. Live for them. Often, an antidote to feeling suicidal, paradoxically, is to replace introspection with focus on helping others, whether a person, animal, or cause. Of course, if you feel imminently suicidal, call someone you trust or the national suicide hotline, which has local counselors available to take your call 24/7: 1-800-273-TALK. There is more good ahead of you than you can currently imagine. There is hope.

Dr. Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to the articles here on, many more of his writings are archived on Of his seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. His bio is on Wikipedia.

bildungRealistic Sources of Hope