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Hope Floats

Published : December 03, 2015

Ever wanted to give in, to give up, felt totally overwhelmed by life, loss or tragedy? I have.

But it’s in these times, in the darkness before the dawn that, “Hope springs eternal.” It is a light at the end of a tunnel, a rainbow that comes from the rain and a raft on which to ride out the rough seas of life. Often, when there seems nothing else worthwhile to hold on to – it’s Hope that keeps us afloat.

by: Serena Kirby


Hope is, without doubt, one of our most important emotions.  Whenever disaster strikes, like the shocking events of 9/11 or the Victorian bushfires, it is Hope that stirs the soul and moves the masses.  It enables us to rebuild, reconnect and rejuvenate after we are rocked and knocked by adversity.

For me, Hope is a compass that points towards a better, brighter future.  I’ve lost much in life; my best friend since childhood to suicide, a good friend to cancer, both my parents and two marriages.  But, through it all, it’s been Hope that’s kept my head above the dark waters of despair.  I don’t want to imagine where I’d be today had I not had Hope and, while I’ve always had it, I’ve never fully appreciated what it truly means… until now.

Writer Emily Dickenson describes it beautifully when she said in a poem, “Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul.”  The great poet Alexander Pope also encapsulated it well when he penned the famous line: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Many other great artists and musicians as well as scientists, theorists and theologists have been inspired by, and fascinated with, the principle of Hope.  It permeates many cultures and religions and is held by Christians as one of the three great virtues: faith, hope and charity. 

Academic definitions state that Hope is the desire for something good, accompanied with at least a slight expectation of obtaining it or a belief that it is attainable.  What Hope isn’t is faith, optimism, positive thinking or a wish. 

Hope is not faith as faith includes a factor of belief and confidence: hope has a factor of the unknown.  It’s not optimism as that is a conclusion reached through a deliberate and logical thought pattern that leads to a positive attitude – Hope, by contrast, is an emotional state.  And it’s not positive thinking either because that refers to a systematic process designed to reverse pessimism.  Lastly, Hope is not a wish as a wish is a thought that doesn’t rely on a chance of getting the thing you wish for – hence the somewhat negative connotations of the expression “wishful thinking.”

But more important than the defining of Hope is its power, its importance to you and me, how to give it, gain it and hold on to it when all else seems lost.

Hope, Health and Healing

Never underestimate the power of Hope when it comes to its effect on your body.  One of the great psychiatrists of the 20th century, Karl Menninger, believed that Hope was an essential component of the healing process.  In a ground-breaking address to his fellow colleagues in the 1950s, he chose Hope as his topic and insisted the audience nurture this indispensable “flame” and “divine fire”. 

A decade later another leading psychiatrist, Jermone Frank, published an extensive review of 25 years of psychotherapy and concluded that, while many different types of therapy could effect healing, there was possibly one single underlying factor; “the instillation of hope”.

In more recent times, an American survey found that more than 90 per cent of oncologists rated Hope as the most important psychological factor associated with increased survival rates among cancer patients.

So prominent is Hope in healing that it has its own colour, its own flower and its own day.  The Daffodil, the first flower of Spring, is now the global symbol of Hope for cancer sufferers and in many countries, including Australia, there’s an annual Daffodil Day (this year in Australia it’s 28 August).

But how does Hope heal?  As the brain plays a crucial role in controlling the body, research has shown that someone afflicted with a life-threatening illness, who believes they might eventually get better, is more likely to take care of their body.  This in turn helps their body battle disease and can work to improve the quality of the life they have remaining.   Additionally, as Hope is an emotion that brings a sense of joy, it is believed to assist in releasing endorphins from the pituitary gland which then are used by the body’s nervous system to block out messages of pain.

And then there is the well-known ‘placebo effect’ which is a concept widely accepted by doctors and scientists.  It shows that, in some cases, a placebo or ‘fake cure’ can satisfy a patient’s hope for a cure.  Not only can it make patients feel better, but it can even make them believe they are cured when in reality no medicine, surgery or treatment has been given.

But Hope has yet another relevance to someone dealing with terminal illness and it’s one that is sometimes misunderstood and misinterpreted.  People who are suffering from advanced disease are often told they “shouldn’t give up hope”.  While it may sound like well-meaning advice it can be problematic when that Hope is defined only to mean ‘cure’.  As to be hopeful means to expect good to come in the future, you would be forced to ask yourself whether you can expect some good to come when you are suffering from an illness that cannot be cured.  The answer is yes.

You can hope that the time you have left will be meaningful and you can hope that you won’t be left to suffer in pain or lose your dignity.  All are hopes that can be achieved.  You might also hope for a kind of healing that’s not about curing disease but instead the healing that comes when you forgive yourself, as well as others, for wrongs in the past.

Hope saves lives

When contemplating the power of Hope it’s impossible not to reflect on the people who were confined – for years - in the German concentration camps, or those brave soldiers who were Prisoners of War.  In most cases these people would have been justified in giving up and even taking their own lives as their suffering was extreme, their living conditions horrific and the possibility of making it out alive was against all odds.  But, even as their bodies and minds weakened, their Hope (the one thing their captors could not take from them) stayed strong.  For many, it literally was the only thing that kept them alive until liberation finally came.

Then there are the countless tales of survival from people lost in deserts or on mountains, people trapped in collapsed buildings or down mines (like the two Beaconsfield miners) where Hope was their only lifeline.

It’s in these extreme situations where Hope blossoms the most and reveals its true life-saving powers.

Life without Hope

It’s often said that a life without Hope is a life not worth living.  Sadly, it is the sense of Hopelessness that’s cited as one of the key factors in many people’s decisions to take their own life.

The darkness of Hopelessness arrives when you feel trapped in a bad situation with no hope for improvement and negative thoughts cluster together to form a Hopeless mindset.  In essence, it rains.  Each problem is a droplet that falls to form a puddle which grows into a river that swells into a sea.  Many teenagers drown in the Sea of Hopelessness - too young to master the skill of swimming in troubled waters - too inexperienced to navigate a safe passage.  They become… sailors lost at sea.

Each year nearly 1900 Australians die from suicide (which is more than are killed on our roads), a high percentage of them are under 25.

When my best friend took her life at age 20 I was shocked, distraught and confused.  How could someone so young, so beautiful, with her whole life ahead - do such a thing?  It’s taken me decades to find an answer and I now realise that she had lost what we need most.  Hope.

Give Hope

Identifying Hopelessness in a friend or loved one is often difficult as there are many events that cause it – job loss, relationship breakup, financial hardship, not meeting a personal goal, negative actions or hurtful words from someone they respect or even making a mistake that has serious consequences.

While some, or all, of these events may not seem monumental tragedies to you or me, each one can put a person in a dire situation that results in loss of a life.  The key therefore is to be mindful that - what may not be important to you - may in fact be the final droplet that causes a flood of Hopelessness to drown someone you love.

Everyone faces challenges from time to time but we must ensure that we don’t let these challenges take away our will to live.  You can help relieve someone’s sense of Hopelessness by being supportive, taking their concerns seriously, giving up your time to talk and by sharing some of your own sense of Hope.  Remind them of what self-help guru Tony Robbins says; “The past does not equal the future”.  So even if things haven’t gone right previously, tomorrow is a new day.

Gain Hope

If you believe you need more Hope, here are some things to do and consider:

  • Put things in perspective - there’s always someone worse off than you are.
  • Have photos of those you love around you.
  • Proudly display mementos of goals you have reached.
  • Watch a hope-filled romantic movie or one with an inspiring tale.
  • Music is especially powerful in generating a feeling of wellness.  Put on an uplifting CD that you can dance or sing along to. 
  • Read up on spirituality and various religions as many people find Hope through these avenues.
  • Say aloud to yourself - often: “I can find my way out of this.  Other people have made it through similar things – so can I.  In two years, I’ll be able to look back and laugh at how worried I was about this situation.”

Most important of all, Hope grows in the company of others so share your hopes with those you love.

Remember, it can’t rain forever.  And, even if it did… Hope will keep you afloat.

For more information on the subject of hope, or to seek advice on gaining hope and alleviating depression visit:





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