When People Think Hope is Making Them Happier (But It’s Not)

A few years ago, a fellow mentor in the entrepreneur space told me hope was a poison that was killing businesses. This statement upended me. I thought hope was a good thing.

Months later, I understood the context my mentor was referring to, and it opened my eyes to hope. 

There is both a healthy hope and an unhealthy hope. My mentor was referring to unhealthy hope, so I agree with his statement. Unhealthy hope is dangerous.

Being a few years into my study on joy, I now see how unhealthy hope is detrimental to a person’s joy.

Joy is the satisfaction you feel when you pursue hope, even through great difficulty. But for people to feel joy, the hope they pursue has to be healthy.

In today’s negative society, many people pursue an unhealthy hope, then wonder why they don’t have joy. Their unhealthy hope keeps them stuck in a cycle of negativity, which just makes them unhappy.

In this article, I’m going to break down the difference between healthy hope and unhealthy hope, so you can pursue the hope that leads to lasting joy.

What is Unhealthy Hope?

What makes unhealthy hope dangerous? 

Unhealthy hope is when you use hope to relieve yourself of responsibility. 

It’s saying, “I hope I can be more fit,” but never going to the gym. 

It’s saying, “There’s nothing we can do but hope for the best,” and then never doing anything.

It’s saying, “I hope I get three new clients this month,” but then never working for it.

Unhealthy hope is what people have when they have aspirations for the future they don’t take responsibility and action for. 

People usually use an unhealthy hope to feel better. It gives off the illusion of happiness and optimism, and therefore, gives the person an appearance of hope. 

Imagine talking with someone who says, “there’s nothing I can do to get three new clients in my business.” You don’t want to hear that. It sounds so hopeless. You want to hear optimism in them. 

The other person also wants to be optimistic. So they mask their hopelessness with unhealthy hope. They say they have hope, but they’re not taking responsibility and action on that hope. So it just sits and festers inside them, making them unhappier and more negative. 

So how does unhealthy hope keep people stuck in cycles of negativity? How does it actually make people less happy? 

Unhealthy hope makes you feel like you’re doing something when you’re not. And when you feel like you’re doing everything, but are still not getting results, then you reinforce your feelings of helplessness.

Helplessness says there’s nothing you can do to change your circumstances or your happiness. As you reinforce your helplessness, you compound your negativity, and stay stuck in a cycle where you keep dodging responsibility and just “hope for the best.”

What is Healthy Hope?

If unhealthy hope is relieving yourself of responsibility, healthy hope is taking responsibility. Healthy hope is hope that moves you to action.

A clear example of this can be seen in Christianity. As a believing Christian, I have a healthy hope in God. This means, while I trust God to provide a breakthrough, I also pray for the breakthrough. God doesn’t need us to produce the breakthrough, but he wants us to partner with Him in bringing about the breakthrough. I am doing my part to bring about the breakthrough.

Another example can be seen in growing your business. You can’t just hope for good results. You have to do the actions that bring about good results. A person cannot hope for $10,000 in new sales, and not do anything to produce the sales calls that give them that result. They have to take responsibility for their part.

Healthy hope is what leads to joy. As you take responsibility for what is yours to own, then you’ll keep giving yourself evidence that you can change your situation. You have agency in your life.

Healthy hope is how we break feelings of helplessness and create the life we want.

Signs of Unhealthy Hope

So you’re probably wondering . . . how can you tell if you or others have unhealthy hope? Here are a few signs of an unhealthy hope . . . 

1. Whenever you sense cynicism and bitterness. When a person has unhealthy hope, their “hope” typically produces cynicism and bitterness. For instance, imagine a person saying in a snarky tone, “we’ll see what God does.” If you smell a hint of cynicism there, you can tell that person isn’t praying and has an unhealthy hope. 

2. Admit there’s nothing I can do but hope for the best. When a person says this, they’re admitting there’s nothing they can do. If they believe there’s nothing they can do, they’re dodging responsibility. 

Now, note there’s a difference between admitting nothing I can do vs. nothing more I can do. A person who says the latter has done all they could, while the former has most likely done nothing.

3. If hope doesn’t produce joy. If a person says they have hope, but they seem unhappy and frustrated, they have an unhealthy hope. Healthy hope produces joy.

Unhealthy hope is a poison that just gives people the illusion of happiness. It’s a product of their negativity and helpless feeling.

If you want lasting joy, you need to pursue a healthy hope. This means taking responsibility for your part to bring about your aspirations. If you can learn to snuff out unhealthy hope, and replace it with healthy hope, joy will follow.

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