Ten Things to Do When You’re Feeling Hopeless

Step One: Give up hope

| January-February 2011

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.

lesliesaunders
6/9/2018 9:15:52 AM

Glad this isn’t the first Utne article I read. Messy,messy,messy.....


Jayboy
12/14/2017 9:06:15 AM

The message of this article is a sound one. But the writing is pretty horrible. Sloppy and lazy. Utne Reader should be more selective as to what it runs.


Jayboy
12/14/2017 9:06:14 AM

I am sorry, but this is poorly written. Very unfortunate that Utne Reader chose to run this piece. I am not disagreeing with its message, but the writing is clumsy.