Tomorrow is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States. So I feel like I should write something about being thankful.
Problem is, I've got doubts about the value of that. After all, for everything I can feel thankful for, there's a seemingly equally large bunch of things that I'm not thankful for.
Yet we don't celebrate a Notthankful holiday, though maybe we should for the yin-yang balance.
Rather than thankfulness, I was leaning toward fashioning a blog post on the theme of hope -- which strikes me as being the forward-looking side of thankfulness.
Meaning, we're thankful for good things that have happened to us in the past, and for good things present in our life in the present.
But since we can't be thankful for something that hasn't occurred yet, hope is a placeholder for a future bit of thankfulness that we'll engage in if life turns out as we would like it to, yet can't be sure of.
Hope, of course, is a big part of every religion, though it often is termed "faith." Pretty much the same thing, though. We can have faith that we'll spend a pleasant eternity in heaven, or we can hope that this will occur.
Like most people, I generally view hope positively. Well, except when I don't.
I just used the search box in the right sidebar of this blog to look for previous posts I've written about hope. Google revealed six where hope was a primary theme.
For relatives of MH370 passengers, hope is like religious faith
Abandon all hope...and be more active
Determinism and hope are good substitutes for karma and faith
Regret and hope are luxuries for the young
Maybe it's time to give up on hope
Hope is the secular equivalent of religious faith
Looking over them, it's clear that I've got decidedly mixed feelings about hope. It can help us through difficult times, but at a cost. Because when a hope is dashed, when we really want something to happen and it doesn't, we can feel worse than if we'd never hoped at all.
(Religions don't face this problem when it comes to hope in an afterlife, since obviously whether or not that hope happens is going to occur after this life, not during it.)
On the whole, I guess I favor a form of realistic hope.
Meaning, know what you're doing when you engage in hope. Keep in mind that hope will make you feel better as you contemplate a desired imagined future, yet isn't at all a guarantee that what's hoped for will occur, so be prepared for disappointment.
Here's some quotes from the blog posts listed above that provide an overview of how I look upon hope.
With belief in the existence of God, there also is essentially zero evidence that this is reality rather than wishful thinking. Nonetheless, billions of people cling to hope that after they die, they will land safely in heaven or some other supernatural realm.
Just as with the relatives of MH370 passengers, I understand why religious believers embrace their hopes. It feels good to envision a happy ending to a sad story, whether this be a plane that has disappeared or the end of one's precious life.
It's rare to view hope as something to be discarded rather than embraced. Don't we need hope? Isn't hope what keeps us going through tough times, with its power to present a vision of a better future?
Maybe not. I found Derrick Jensen's Orion column, "Beyond Hope," to be beautifully written and quite persuasive.
Though his main focus is on the benefits of environmental activists giving up hope in favor of action, his piece has considerable general relevance.
For example, most religions put a lot of emphasis on hope, which is almost synonymous with faith. Supposedly we should trust that someone or something -- God, angels, Jesus, a guru, Brahman, Zeus -- will make everything all right in the end.
This weakens our own capacity to make life better for ourselves now. We imagine that the power to produce positive change lies somewhere else, not in our own hands.
I much prefer hope in my current churchless frame of mind.
Hope is faith shorn of supernaturalism. Hope recognizes that almost always in everyday life the future can't be predicted with 100% accuracy. Yes, determinism rules. But often, if not usually, life is so complex some form of chaos theory comes into play, where small causes can have big effects.
Or, known causes can have unknown effects.
Either way, hope springs eternal, as the saying goes. Even when things look really dismal, and no way out seems apparent, there's the possibility of something unexpected happening.
Being found when you're lost in a wilderness. Recovering after a dismal diagnosis. Feeling better even though depression seems like it will be with you forever. Finding a true love after many years of loneliness.
Hope is realistic. Faith isn't. Just as determinism is, and karmic theory isn't.
At my age, obviously there is much less in front of me than in back of me. The years I've already lived number far fewer than the years I have left to live -- unless I live until I'm 141.
Which isn't realistic to hope for.
In fact, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that after a certain age, and I feel that I've passed it, both hope for the future and regret about the past are luxuries for the young.
Because most young people have many more years to live. They have plenty of time to learn from their mistakes and to plan for a better future. So it makes sense for their psyche to do the sort of "ego feasting" Pollon speaks of.
What made this relationship fail? How did I end up in such a crappy job? Where do I want to live when I'm tired of this town? Should I have children, and if so, how many? Why doesn't my life seem truly meaningful? How can I make friends with people I really care about? How great will it be after I lose 20 pounds?
There's so many questions. Good questions. Great questions.
Our past and future are filled with them. As Pollon said, it is easy, and often fun, to time travel our way into regrets about the past and hopes for the future. Or other sorts of thoughts about what was and what may come to be.
There's nothing wrong with doing this. But there's a cost. We can't be here and now when we're in there and then.
I'm conflicted about hope, the desire for something to happen. It certainly seems like a good thing, a shoulder to lean on in tough times, a positive compass heading when happenings in your life are going in the wrong direction.
I've relied on hope a lot, as have we all, most likely. I've dreamed of better times, of bouncing back from a disappointment, of finding a way to accomplish something difficult.
For most of us, it's difficult to imagine not living without hope.
If we get sick, we hope we'll soon be well. If a romantic relationship falls apart, we hope that love will return to our life in a different guise. If we're fired from our job, we hope that our next employment opportunity will be better.
So hope appears to be a psychological drug with no negative side effects. It lifts us up when we're down, a mood elevator that doesn't require a doctor's prescription.
There's also something to be said for giving up on hope. It's unclear to me whether that saying, whatever it might consist of, outweighs the benefits of hope. I simply have a feeling, based on my own experience, that hope isn't always a good thing.
One drawback is that it contains the seed of disappointment. Whether that seed sprouts depends on the outcome of our hoping. If we fill our mind with a strong desire that X will occur, the appearance of Y with no sign of X is going to cause us to feel letdown.
Now, would it be better if there was no hope for X? I don't know. Perhaps.