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“The very purpose of our life is happiness, which is sustained by hope.
We have no guarantee about the future, but we exist in the hope of something better.
Hope means keeping going, thinking, ‘I can do this.’ It brings inner strength, self-confidence, the ability to do what you do honestly, truthfully and transparently.”
– Dalai Lama
Hope strengthens or supports a state of happiness. But is there a kind of hope that is effective at sustaining a state of happiness and a kind of hope that is ineffective at sustaining happiness?
When Hope Is Ineffective At Sustaining Happiness
When we as individuals make plans, we may feel empowered, happy, excited, and even hopeful for a time. We often hope things will turn out the way we imagined or the way we planned them.
The Dalai Lama stated in his commencement address at Tulane University in 2013,
“We have no guarantee about the future, but we exist in the hope of something better.”
Yes, we should hope for something better, for a brighter future, but the reality is that we have no guarantee concerning the future. This is an important point to ponder, and there are two things to consider here.
Hope can lead to anxiety
First, the things we hoped for and planned for sometimes do not come to pass as we had envisioned. Becoming fixed on a hope we have in our head, about how we believe our future will transpire, can become a real source of anxiety and suffering rather than happiness.
Why? Because when the plans that we were confident would turn out the way we hoped they would begin to crumble, we may find ourselves sinking into unhappiness, melancholy, and/or anxiety.
We may lose hope in hope.
The past and the future are just mental constructs
Secondly, all we have at any given moment is the present. With this reality, maybe we need to learn to live in the present while hoping for a good future. If we become so obsessed with making plans, we may lose sight of living at peace and happiness in the now.
This type of obsessive hope is often based on an unrealistic, erroneous mindset and living in the future. It is ineffective at sustaining happiness. By only focusing on hope with no basis in the present, we set ourselves up for possible disappointment.
Should we never make plans then?
Of course not.
We can and should make plans. But we should set future goals with the understanding that things might not turn out like exactly like we imagined, and we should strive to have a realistic hope for the future without missing out on the present.
This leads to an effective hope that sustains happiness.
When Hope Is Effective At Sustaining Happiness
So how can we develop a more realistic understanding of hope? A hope that is effective at sustaining happiness in the face of everyday stresses, change, and disappointment?
If hope, which according to the Dalai Lama, is to “sustain happiness,” is to be effective, it must be built on the understanding and acceptance of the idea of impermanence in life.
But what exactly is impermanence and how can an understanding of it bring hope and happiness?
The word impermanent means “not lasting or durable; not permanent” (Impermanent, 2011). Therefore, impermanence is referring to the fact that plans, feelings, emotions, thoughts, all of life for that matter, is in a state of flux.
We could even say that the only constant in this world is change. Change happens. Now, this should not be a cause of despair, but rather hope.
We can find hope in the fact that change is inevitable and that we can learn to “go with the flow” and make adjustments accordingly when plans don’t go the way we originally envisioned.
This can be difficult for the individual who has trouble giving up control in their life but once realized and accepted, it can bring hope, happiness, and peace of mind. Embracing the reality of impermanence will help one to find hope in the present moment as well as in making plans.
In conclusion, this more realistic view of hope should be a focus of Positive Psychology. It is a hope that is built on the foundational understanding of the reality of impermanence, the necessity of present moment living and is the hope that sustains happiness.
Dalai Lama, (2013, May) Tulane University's Commencement Ceremony Keynote Address, New Orleans, Louisiana. http://tulane.edu/grads/dalai-lama-transcript.cfm
Myers, D. G. (2014), Exploring Psychology, (9th Ed.) with DSM Updates, Worth Publishing Company.
Impermanence. (2011.) American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). Retrieved September 6 2015 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/impermanence
What is Positive Psychology? (2015). Retrieved September 6, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/positive-psychology