There are few emotions as soul-stirring as hope.
I call it an emotion because we all know what hope feels like, how it beats in the breast like a wild bird, how it surges and swells and crashes against the darker shores of the soul like a jubilant sea.
There is pure joy in hope.
But we also all know that hope is more than just emotion – it’s also a decision we make when things seem hopeless.
I recently read a letter that contains this passage:
“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.”
I’ve decided that this will be my mantra for the coming year.
For my last post of 2019, I want to focus on the hope part. Because many of us struggle – especially this time of year – to find it.
The Danger of Hopelessness
It’s a funny thing, but hope is not as well studied in some psychological circles as is hopelessness. But these studies tell us that hopelessness is as corrosive as battery acid.
In one recent study of patients in advanced stages of cancer, hopelessness hastened their desire to die.
And apparently, this death grip is no trivial matter. In another study, hopelessness was the strongest predictor of all-cause mortality in older adults who had recently been hospitalized.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth between the ages of 12 and 18. One group of researchers recently studied hopelessness in a group of teens taking antidepressant drugs. They found that, independent of changes in depression severity over the course of treatment, even a slight increase in hopelessness significantly increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
I doubt any of this comes as a surprise to you. Hope can act as a great light in the soul, but those of us who have lost hope know the icy weight of that darkness.
Hope seems to carry within it some fundamental life force that, when extinguished, snuffs out our desire to live.
To learn how to hope unswervingly is no small task.
Here’s how poets and philosophers describe hope:
Hope is a waking dream.”Aristotle
Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.”Lin Yutang
Hope is passion for what is possible.”Søren Kierkegaard
Hope is the companion of power, and mother of success; for who so hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles.”Samuel Smiles
Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”Emily Dickinson
How to Hope Unswervingly
I know three things about the coming year: it will have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
It seems to me that hope will play different but vital roles at all these stages.
Hope in the Beginning
Have you ever watched the New Years celebrations at Times Square in New York City or some other major city?
I would bet dollars to doughnuts that underneath all that mad joy is one main emotion: hope. When the ball drops, you and I are given a fresh start, replete with new possibilities.
Hope is often my first conscious emotion in a new year.
Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…”Alfred Lord Tennyson
Hope often sets our agenda for the coming year. What are New Year’s resolutions but articulated hopes for how our lives will improve? Hope is the most powerful driving force I know of for change.
The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”Barbara Kingsolver
All the interests of my reason, speculative as well as practical, combine in the three following questions: 1. What can I know? 2. What ought I to do? 3. What may I hope?”Immanuel Kant
The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started.”Norman Cousins
Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.”Martin Luther
There’s something audacious about hope in the beginning, because it’s based on aspiration more than achievement.
Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”Shel Silverstein
These early hopes can be as green and tender as spring seedlings. Some, ill-formed and untested by hard experience, will die an early death.
But others, belying their fragile appearance, will take root and thrive. These gutsy little seedlings will deserve all the attention and care we can give them.
Find the seed at the bottom of your heart and bring forth a flower.”Shigenori Kameoka
You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”William Faulkner
There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.”Baruch Spinoza
Before we set out on a new journey, we all must take a little hope to sustain us.
Hope in the Middle
As the year lengthens, we will suffer setbacks. Roadblocks will appear out of nowhere. We will find that some goals are harder than we expected. Fear and doubt will descend and threaten to beat down our dreams.
Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all… As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”G. K. Chesterton
However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. Where there’s life, there’s hope.”Steven Hawking
Setbacks will test the mettle of our hope.
We will be faced with a choice. We can give up. Or we can double down.
Hope means taking action:
Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”Dale Carnegie
Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”Thomas Edison
The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”Barak Obama
Hope has a cost. Hope is not comfortable or easy. Hope requires personal risk. It is not about the right attitude. Hope is not about peace of mind. Hope is action. Hope is doing something. The more futile, the more useless, the more irrelevant and incomprehensible an act of rebellion is, the vaster and more potent hope becomes.”Chris Hedges
Hope means turning defeats in victories:
Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”Martin Luther King Jr
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”Albert Camus
So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don’t know what work they are accomplishing within you?”Rainer Maria Rilke
Hope means not giving up:
At what point do you give up – decide enough is enough? There is only one answer really. Never.”Tabitha Suzuma
Never lose hope. Storms make people stronger and never last forever.”Roy T. Bennett
When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.”Theodore Roosevelt
You will face many defeats in your life, but never let yourself be defeated.”Maya Angelou
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”Winston Churchill
If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps 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.”Martin Luther King Jr
Hope means maintaining our faith in others:
I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”Nelson Mandela
The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.J. R. R. Tolkien
Hope at the End
Come friends, it’s not too late to seek a newer world.”Alfred Lord Tennyson
By the end of the coming year, we will let some dreams go. Some dreams will be fulfilled; others will still be works in progress.
And we will be dreaming new dreams, little seedlings of hope to start the whole process over again.
Remember, Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”Stephen King
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”Albert Einstein
Hope is the last thing ever lost.”Italian proverb
Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget, that until the day God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, ‘Wait and Hope.’”Alexandre Dumas
I wish for you a hope-filled New Year.
 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, The Message
 Parpa, E., Tsilika, E., Galanos, A., Nikoloudi, M., & Mystakidou, K. (2019). Depression as mediator and or moderator on the relationship between hopelessness and patients’ desire for hastened death. Supportive Care in Cancer, 1-6.
 Reichardt, L. A., Nederveen, F. E., van Seben, R., Aarden, J. J., van der Schaaf, M., Engelbert, R. H., … & Buurman, B. M. (2019). Hopelessness and Other Depressive Symptoms in Adults 70 Years and Older as Predictors of All-Cause Mortality Within 3 Months After Acute Hospitalization: The Hospital-ADL Study. Psychosomatic medicine, 81(5), 477-485.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). WISQARS leading causes of death reports.
 Wolfe, K. L., Nakonezny, P. A., Owen, V. J., Rial, K. V., Moorehead, A. P., Kennard, B. D., & Emslie, G. J. (2019). Hopelessness as a predictor of suicide ideation in depressed male and female adolescent youth. Suicide and Life‐Threatening Behavior, 49(1), 253-263.
Dr. Pamela Coburn-Litvak has published research articles on exercise and stress in Neuroscience and Neurobiology of Learning and Behavior. Her latest book, Leaving the Shadowland of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, was published in 2020.
After receiving a Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she served as both Assistant Professor of Physiology & Pharmacology and Special Assistant to the Vice President for Research Affairs at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California. She then joined the Biology department at Andrews University and developed courses in human physiology as well as the neurobiology of mental illness. She also founded Rock @ Science LLC, a company that specializes in health and science education and web development. She co-developed the brain and body physiology segment of the Stress: Beyond Coping seminar with its creator, Dr. William “Skip” MacCarty, DMin.
Dr. Coburn-Litvak currently lives in California with her husband. Their two daughters are mostly grown and attending school elsewhere.
When she’s not studying or teaching about stress, she enjoys stress-relieving activities like puttering around the garden, taking nature walks with her family, knitting, cooking, and reading.