Ten Things to Do When You’re Feeling Hopeless

Step One: Give up hope
by Dave Pollard, from How to Save the World
January-February 2011
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These days, I’m more likely to feel hopeless than sad, more likely to feel as if nothing is ever enough, as if nothing really makes a difference, as if our whole human civilization is unraveling and there is nothing I or anyone can do about it. It’s a different feeling from sadness, and perhaps it needs a different, more complex set of ideas for coping with it. Here’s what I came up with to that end:

Give up hope. That’s right, get off the hope/despair roller coaster and realize once and for all: It’s hopeless! You should have known when a U.S. presidential candidate won an election on a platform of mere hope that it was time to give it up. Embrace hopelessness! It’s OK! It makes sense. But we can, should, and must still be intentional, responsible, and joyful.

Explore your gifts and passions with someone you love. Get together with someone you love and tell each other what you really care about, what you have real passion for, what you think really needs to be done in the world, what you think you could actually contribute to usefully and would really enjoy doing. Then tell each other what you think each other’s gifts to the world are—the things that other person is uniquely good at doing. I bet you’ll feel things starting to shift, in ways that are practical and intentional, instead of just desperately, uselessly hopeful.

Be good to yourself. We’re fucked, and you know it, but still you’re doing your part, taking responsibility, doing important work to mitigate or help adapt to the hopeless future we all face, right? So ease off. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself a break. Pamper yourself. Celebrate the fact that you’re smart enough, informed enough, strong enough, sensitive enough to feel utterly hopeless.

Cry (like an elephant). Research suggests that crying is a natural response to stress and grief, with enormous therapeutic value. Elephants, with exceptionally large brains and memories, visit the sites of pack mates’ deaths or suffering to remember and to cry, according to research by Jeffrey Masson. It’s natural, it feels good, and it’s good for you. So why does our culture not want us to cry when we feel hopeless?

Listen to kids talk about what they care about. Kids are hopeless. Until their parents, peers, and the education system brainwash them to start planning and hoping for their future and living inside their heads, they live in the present—without hope. By listening to them we can relearn what it means to live without the need to hope, to just accept and be.

Learn to be present like wild creatures. Like young children, wild creatures don’t live in hope. They too live in the real world, the present. They have much to teach us about the first principles of living, hopelessly: Be generous. Value your time. Live naturally. Learn to be present in your own way—meditation, exercise, walks in the woods, whatever works for you. Hope and hopelessness are both about the future. When you are present, neither has any hold on you.

Talk with other hopeless people. It’s hopeless for all of us, so acknowledging that and starting to talk about it knowingly and honestly is the first step in making peace with our hopelessness and our collective grief. Perhaps it’s time to challenge the taboo in our culture that we must not admit to, or talk about, the hopelessness of our situation, and our feelings of hopelessness. You might start with someone you care about whom you haven’t talked with in a long time. Right now, yeah, leave a message if you have to, and persevere. When you do converse, forget about catching up on old news or talking about future plans. Talk about what you’re doing and feeling right now. Including the feelings of hopelessness. Bring them into your present and they’ll bring you into the present in return, and out of the hopeless future.

Avoid unactionable news and “self-help” books. The media don’t have a clue, and the “news” is all about what has already happened, dumbed down, sensationalized, and oversimplified to the point of meaninglessness. It’s all designed to make you feel hopeful, so you don’t rise up and do something dangerous or appropriate to the worst of the perpetrators who have, in fact, made everything hopeless. And while you’re dispensing with hopeless reading, throw out all those so-called “self-help” books with their glib prescriptions for how you should live. They don’t work! You are the way you are for a reason. It’s absurd to hope that some stupid book is going to change it.

Dream. Dreams are alternate realities, and they are realities we can create and control. When you give vent to your imagination, it can manifest, real-ize, wonderful inventions—works of art with amazing healing, communicating, inspirational, and transformative power. Your dreams are clues to your gift to the world.

Fall in love. I have no advice at all on how to do this. All I know is that it works. It’s risky and addictive for sure, and for most of us its most blissful effects wear off too fast. But nature has given us this wonderful state of foolish, invincible, chemical-induced grace, and it makes us immune to both hope and hopelessness.

I will resist the temptation to rant about things I think are dumb to do when you’re feeling hopeless (like praying, or asking others for help) because that would get me into arguments, and arguments on things like religion and psychiatry are worse than hopeless. I trust you are not feeling better. After all, it is hopeless.

 

Excerpted from Dave Pollard’s blog How to Save the World (Sept. 12, 2010), where he writes about his “search to find better ways to live, and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.” www.howtosavetheworld.ca  

jan-feb-2011-cover-thumbnailThis article first appeared in the January-February 2011 issue of Utne Reader.


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Post a comment below.

 

nomnom
8/13/2014 6:14:28 AM
Haris. I am Near the same, i fail to hand in my assignments on time and everything and im always feeling depressed because my dad is always swearing at me and saying he will hit me Some times i feel like commiting suicide and saying What is life for?, I am only in year 9 BTW

Drewby22
6/23/2014 11:52:10 PM
Haris, if you are feeling like that, you should get professional help immediately so that you are better able to process those feelings.

elsie mc
6/19/2014 7:58:50 AM
I always Listen the kids and take care of them always. Because childhood is that age where kids learn a lot and follow in life. It is the responsibility of parents to listen kids and encourage them to get involved in every activity. http://www.seoexpertsindia.com/search-engine-optimization-services.php

elsie mc
6/19/2014 7:45:55 AM
I only like one thing in this article then you should listen the children and take care of them always. Because childhood is that age of human where he learn a lot and follow in life. http://www.seoexpertsindia.com/search-engine-optimization-services.php

David
6/16/2014 11:03:35 AM
For Haris: While I realize our disappointments and how we handle them is totally personal, I think that contemplating suicide over this is a bit extreme. I don't know if you are applying directly to foreign schools or how you have been applying. I don't know if you are in high school or college. At the college level many schools have study abroad programs. Years ago I went to Barcelona for my year abroad. Program details are here - http://www.bcanet.org/ You can choose from 15 different countries. Please continue to look for a way to make this happen; there are all kinds of options, and it's an experience you will carry with you forever. Ask the local high school counselor or foreign language teachers for information. Go to a website for the country you want to study in and see what they suggest. Good luck!

haris
6/14/2014 12:37:34 PM
Hey :( I m in a situation and I really need your help sooo Badly, please for the sake of anything good listen to me and help me, I have been trying to study abroad And applying in different countries for an year but I have got zero output :( I m feeling sooo insecure as I have wasted an year of my life and My friends have foster leaving me behind, I am alone in despair and can't see no chance of getting out of this place in near future, I have stopped eating and started cutting myself for the past one month and now everyone even my parents are hating me, so please if you give a shit then help me :( else I have no option left other than to commit suicide :(

Sophietrackow
6/4/2014 2:27:44 AM
Thanks a lot for such inspiring article!!

MAYTA
2/1/2014 2:17:29 AM
After my break up, I sat in my bed all day, every day. I cried constantly I actually started to Google ways to get over a broken heart, and that’s when I found your email I just wanted to thank you so much for your help. It has gotten me through a lot, and I appreciate it immensely thank you for bringing my husband back to me and our kids thank you drlawrencespelltemple@hotmail. com you are truly a blessing.

Bella Rosales
1/23/2013 9:14:05 PM
thank you

Lauri Lumby
2/11/2011 11:45:43 AM
Dave, LOVE your article and it is spot on....only one item I might challenge....the idea that prayer doesn't help in times of hopelessness. If we confuse prayer with religion, then I might agree with you....however, we are missing the deeper meaning of prayer. Prayer is a vehicle through which we set aside our own egos, fears, false perceptions and HOPES....and allow ourselves to be open to seeing and perceiving life from a wider lens. Religion does not hold a monopoly on prayer, in fact, I teach that prayer is available and accessible to everyone. Another word? Meditation or contemplation. Prayer, like the other items you listed, is simply a vehicle for getting out of ourselves and being open to something larger...more authentic. The ultimate goal of prayer (though we could also argue that the goal is "no goal") is to find inner peace...contentment with what is, in this moment, in the now. I am a firm proponent of prayer and go to it whenever I feel despairing and it always helps. And yes, it would serve us well to rescue prayer from the chains of dogma! In gratitude, Lauri Lumby Authentic Freedom Ministries http://yourspiritualtruth.com


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