The Benefits of Giving Up Hope
Does hope have a dark side? Four things we gain when we give up hope.
Posted April 21, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- Giving hope up does not mean all is lost. It may mean a new beginning if we let it go because we are clinging to something not beneficial.
- Passive hope can rob us of the present moment and a better future.
- Giving up hope can help us completely let go of trying to force things to move in the direction we want.
Hope is a good thing, right?
High measures of hope have been associated with happiness, success, optimism, and positivity that can boost achievement and wellbeing. On the other hand, hopelessness has been associated with lower life satisfaction and sometimes suicide. Can something this good have a dark side? And if so, is it worth exploring the benefits of giving it up?
Looking at the list of health benefits, we might hold the belief that the more hope, the better. Tempting as it may be to assume this (and how countercultural it can be to think less is more), a literature review on hope (Leeging et al., 2021) suggests that it is more nuanced than that. There can be too much of a good thing (a non-linear relationship). It depends on the type of hope and how it is measured.1
While there is some evidence hope correlates with health, the correlation is weaker than you might think, suggesting that moderate hope may be better than high levels of hope. And, like most human characteristics that are complex and evolving, a single-minded view could prevent us from seeing the upside to giving up hope.
Four Potential Down-Sides to Hope
- Hope can come loaded with expectations, expectations that are actually premeditated resentments.
- Hope can be a way to avoid feeling something painful, preventing us from feeling sadness, thus keeping us stuck under its warm blanket.
- We can cling to hope and even become addicted to it, preventing us from taking action toward something new.
- Hope can be a shiny lacquer masking fear and uncertainty, attempting to restore a false sense of control.
Hopelessness Has Gotten a Bad Rap
Giving up hope has been labeled as what depressed or weak people do. It can be clung to, “at least we have hope,” or as a last resort, “all we can do is hope.” It can feel disingenuous when offered as a consolation prize. We can get stuck in categorical thinking that you have it or you don’t, and those who don’t are pessimistic.
Giving hope up does not mean all is lost. It may mean a new beginning; if we are clinging to something, it is time to let go of it. We can empty ourselves of preconceived ideas about how things should be, which can heighten our awareness of what is, allowing more engagement with how things actually are.
In her book, The Dark Side of Hope: A Psychological Investigation and Cultural Commentary (2011), Karen Krett writes that hope can impede development when it is “promoted as an unintegrated virtue.”2
If having hope is just what good people do, it is inauthentic and void. Passive hope can rob us of the present moment and a better future. Hope can keep us in that victim place if we just hold hope rather than live into an active expression of it. If we let go of hope in one area, we must trust that something new will come once we set our expectations free.
But, this is a lot to ask of our ego – to step aside, release the sense of control we feel and hope for what we want. Clinging to hope may be like a tree that just doesn’t let go of its leaves because it does not trust that the spring will come to renew it. It takes practice. It is a practice. Pema Chödrön writes, ...abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning.3
What happens when we give up hope and embrace hopelessness?
Hopelessness can help us touch down to the darkness and feel it in a new, raw way that invites whatever is next to find us. It can tear our gripped knuckles off the boat railing and let go, jump in, be swept up in the grief or pain, chaos, turmoil, and whatever seems like it will take us down.
Giving up hope can let us live with the reality of our situation and experience the tidal change our life is taking. It breaks us open something else, a new start when we didn’t even want one. It allows death and resurrection.
Benefits of Hopelessness
- Hopelessness allows us to feel deep pain, sadness, grief, the no-hope of things returning to how we want.
- Hopelessness can help us let go of what we want and be open to what else we can receive.
- Hopelessness can help us deal with the reality of what we do not control.
- Hopelessness can help us say goodbye and begin again.
When we give up hope, we can start fresh, ground zero, release our thoughts about how we believe things should be, and sit in what actually is. Giving up hope can help us completely let go of trying to force things to move in the direction we want. Hope expands when we let it go.
Hopeless may be how you feel just before leaving an unhealthy relationship. Hopelessness may allow you to sink deeply into feeling rather than distracting yourself with busy work. Hopeless may be how you feel about trying to be perfect, so you stop that and just start living. Hopelessness may help you stop trying to control everything. Hopeless may be a doorway to change as you trust the space left once you give up hope that this particular thing you want will get better. Maybe hopelessness happens just before a revolution.
“The bad news is you're falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there's no ground.” – Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Leeging, E., Burger, M. & van Exel, J. The Relations between Hope and Subjective Well-Being: a Literature Overview and Empirical Analysis. Applied Research Quality Life 16, 1019–1041 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-019-09802-4
Krett, K. (2011) The Dark Side of Hope: A Psychological Investigation and Cultural Commentary. Xlibris.
Chödrön, P. (2000). When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times. Boston: Shambhala