Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Develop Hope When You Feel Hopeless

Science-backed strategies for cultivating hope, happiness, and resilience.

Key points

  • Someone with depression, by nature of their illness, may lack hope that they’ll ever feel better.
  • Hopeful employees are 14% more productive than their counterparts.
  • When you believe that you have the power to make things better, you’re more likely to try.

I often hear people say, “It’s OK to be hopeless.” But, without hope, you don’t have much.

It’s common to lack hope, though. Someone with depression, by nature of their illness, may lack hope that they’ll ever feel better. The parent of an adult child with an addiction might not have hope that they’ll ever change because they’ve seen them go through so many struggles without changing.

Hopelessness feels like a dark hole that is impossible to escape. Fortunately, however, you don’t have to stay stuck there—even though it feels like you do.

You have the power to develop hope, even in the most difficult situations. And when you feel a little more hopeful, you'll also feel mentally stronger, which can help you take positive action that may improve your situation.

Hope Defined

Hope involves a belief that you could create a positive outcome. It’s not wishful thinking—like wishing you’d win the lottery. Instead, hope means you believe that you’re capable of achieving a goal—like you could work hard and get out of debt.

Hope is also different from optimism. Essentially, optimism is about thinking good things might happen while hope often involves thinking about the action you’ll take to make those good things happen.

Optimism involves thinking about positive outcomes, regardless of the role you play. So you might be optimistic that it won’t rain this weekend. But if you have hope, you might hope that you’ll throw a good party even if it does rain.

Hopeful Feelings Can Lead to Behavior Change

When you’re feeling hopeless, not only will you feel awful, but you might not do anything to make things better. After all, you’ll believe you can’t do anything to make the situation better.

When you cultivate a shred of hope, you might take action that either addresses the situation or addresses how you feel about the situation. Even if you can’t fix the problem, you can always take steps to fix your emotional state.

You don’t necessarily need to tackle a giant obstacle or try to move mountains when you have hope. Instead, you might take one small step that could improve your life. Here are some examples:

  • You tell a family member you are experiencing a lot of stress and you’re concerned about your mental health. You hope that they’ll validate your feelings, provide emotional support, and assist you in getting help.
  • You tell your boss you feel overwhelmed with your workload. You hope your boss will understand and make some adjustments to your workload.
  • You call the college admission’s office to talk about signing up for classes. You hope that you’ll learn skills that will advance your career.
  • Your landlord says your rent is going up next month. You can’t afford the increase right now. But you stay calm and look at your options—increasing your income or finding a new place to live. You have hope that you’ll find a solution.

Why Hope Is So Important

Hope often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you believe that you have the power to make things better, you’re more likely to try.

What you hope for, however, might change over time. Rather than hope something good will happen, you might find yourself hoping you can handle the outcome—whatever that outcome may be.

For example, if you’re experiencing a health issue, your initial hope might be that a doctor will treat your condition. But, you might soon learn you have a chronic health problem and your new hope might be that you can live a rich and full life with the condition that you have.

Hope is an important factor for living your best life. Research shows the more hope you have:

  • The less likely you are to experience depression and anxiety.
  • The more likely you are to be satisfied with life.
  • The more likely you are to report improved overall well-being.
  • The more productive you’ll be. Hopeful employees are 14% more productive than their counterparts. Lopez, S. J. (2013). Making hope happen: create the future you want for yourself and others. New York, Free Press.
  • The more likely you are to do well in school. Hope is a better predictor of academic achievement than IQu, personality, and even prior academic achievement.

Combine Hope With Gratitude

One of the best ways to cultivate hope is by combining hope and gratitude. While the two are related, there are some big differences.

Gratitude is about being thankful for something that happened in the past—or someone who has been involved in your life. Being hopeful is about looking toward the future.

In 2018, researchers asked participants to spend a few minutes writing about a time when they felt hopeful something would happen and then felt grateful when the thing they hoped for actually occurred. The participants were asked to identify the people they felt gratitude toward during that time as well.

After that quick 15-minute writing prompt, the participants reported they felt significantly happier and more hopeful about the future.

Cultivate Hope When You Feel Hopeless

You find you feel hopeful in some areas of your life but not others. You might feel hopeful about a new relationship while feeling hopeless about the economy. Or maybe you feel filled with hope about your financial situation while you’re struggling to stay hopeful about a loved one’s health.

When you feel hopeless about something, take a few minutes to do a writing exercise.

  • What’s a similar situation you’ve endured in the past where you had hope and things worked out?
  • What were you grateful for?
  • Who are the people who helped and how are you grateful for them?

When you’re done, notice how you feel. Are you happier? Do you feel more hopeful about your current situation?

If you still lack hope, you might shift your focus about what you’re hoping will happen. Instead of trying to become hopeful that things will work out OK, you might focus on developing hope that you’ll be OK despite whatever happens.

You might start a hope journal where you do this exercise whenever you need a little boost in hope. Just reading through your past entries might help you cultivate hope when you need it the most.


Rahimipour, M., Shahgholian, N., & Yazdani, M. (2015). Effect of hope therapy on depression, anxiety, and stress among the patients undergoing hemodialysis. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research, 20(6), 694–699.

Day, Liz & Hanson, Katie & Maltby, John & Proctor, Carmel & Wood, Alex. (2010). Hope uniquely predicts objective academic achievement above intelligence, personality, and previous academic achievement. Journal of Research in Personality. 44. 550-553. 10.1016/j.jrp.2010.05.009.

vanOyen-Witvliet, Charlotte; Richie, Fallon J.; Root Luna, Lindsey M.; and Van Tongeren, Daryl R., "Gratitude Predicts Hope and Happiness: A Two-study Assessment of Traits and States" (2018). Faculty Publications. Paper 1464.

More from Amy Morin
More from Psychology Today