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Many of us feel ill-equipped when confronted by hopelessness in our lives or in the lives of people we care about. Comfort and encouragement seem like inadequate allies against despair and the firm belief that the world no longer offers and will never again offer anything worth living for.

Some common approaches are to try to see the bright side, minimize the negatives, be grateful for the gift of life, or to hold out hope for a better tomorrow. These strategies are usually pretty flimsy though. You might be able to understand them logically but they do not penetrate the outer shell or affect present reality in any meaningful way. It’s like offering a towel to dry up a lake.

I use a philosophical approach that tends to get better results. This is that remaining hopeless is completely fine. But hopelessness has as little to do with outcomes as does hope. They are both states of readiness. These states do not predict anything. Actually people have their hopes dashed every day all over the world. Someone who is now hopeless was probably, once upon a time, quite hopeful and look how that turned out.

If you start out hopeful and end up disappointed, it follows that you can start out hopeless and end up pleasantly surprised. Hope and hopelessness are like a promise. A promise is worthless until the follow through. Hopelessness or hope certainly set different courses for a person, but nothing is determined until life comes to fruition. For any of us to believe that we can perfectly predict the future and know exactly what the world, other people, and we ourselves will throw our way is quite egocentric. Life is full of surprises, and if we use the metaphor of it being a game, the only sure way to make the prediction of hopelessness come true is to cheat by taking yourself out of it before it’s really over.

It’s not actually necessary to change one’s outlook from hopeless to hopeful. It’s only necessary to recognize that both outlooks are nothing more than predictions. They may or may not come true. No matter how full of promise or how incredibly desperate a situation might seem there are no guarantees on either side. What is necessary is to keep playing the game. Ironically, this attitude tends to automatically increase hope.