Hope is ‘a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen’ (New Oxford Dictionary of English). Living through hard times is easier when there is hope for improvement. And, according to Law of Attraction teachers such as Abraham-Hicks, having positive expectations can actually help to create a better future.
Lack of hope – hopelessness – may be a long-standing attitude or personality trait. It may be a symptom of a clinical depression. Or it may seem a logical response to certain situations, for example a chronic or progressive illness.
Hopelessness is often linked to helplessness – passive submission to a miserable fate.
Whatever its origins, hopelessness is bad for health. Large prospective studies have identified chronic hopelessness as a risk factor for developing serious illness such as cancer and heart disease. Other studies have found that, in people already suffering from such medical conditions, a hopeless/helpless attitude predicts worse ‘quality of life’ and shorter survival time. This can be explained partly by direct mind-body relationships, and partly by poor self-care. Hopelessness is a frequent precursor of suicide.
One of the contributions of the palliative care movement has been to show that, even when hope of a cure seems unrealistic, there are always other things to hope for: better control of symptoms, rewarding relationships and activities, a peaceful death and perhaps belief in an afterlife.
Is there such a thing as ‘false hope’? Should someone who has been diagnosed with a progressive illness, but who seems unable to accept the fact, be discouraged from starting a long-term project? Should someone like me, with a 40-year history of migraine attacks, give up spending time and money on new treatments? No right or wrong answers here, but if it is true that our mental attitude helps to shape our personal future, we need to seek a balance between maintaining hope and accepting unpleasant realities.
A great many of the Bach flower remedies can help to promote hope. I will mention two of them here. Gorse is especially suitable for those with chronic ill-health who have come to feel that nothing will ever be better and there is no point in trying any longer. The remedy helps to lift their spirits and encourage them to consider new approaches which may lead to improvements in medical symptoms and in other aspects of life. Sweet Chestnut is indicated in more acute situations and helps those in deep despair to ‘see light at the end of the tunnel’.