“A strong mind always hopes, and has always cause to hope.” ~ Thomas Carlyle ~
I was talking to a friend recently who was telling me about a job opportunity she was interested in. It sounded like a great job that would be a perfect fit for her. After spending about 15 minutes or so talking about how much she wanted the job and hoped that the process would go well, she said, “I don’t want to get my hopes up.” I just nodded. I knew what she meant; after all, it is a common enough saying. It is usually understood to mean that she didn’t want to be disappointed in the event that things didn’t work out. The raised expectations would make the disappointment even worse. Thus, if my friend did not literally raise her hopes too high, then if the outcome was unfavorable, she’d have less far to fall in terms of disappointment. I know a lot of people think this way. I know I do. It represents a defensive instinct within us. We think that we can prospectively protect ourselves by steeling against future misfortune.
Really? Does it actually work that way? Do we really not get disappointed in the end? For that matter, do we even ever succeed in not getting our hopes up? Thinking about this statement and the thought process behind it, it seems the opposite is true. Decoding the language, saying “I don’t want to get my hopes up” is tantamount to saying, “my hopes are already up and I really want it to work out.” The words are actually the opposite what what we really think and feel. Then why not just say what we think and feel? It’s more honest and it’s true.
Could it be the idea that if we say what we really want and reveal how much we want it, we will jinx it? This is what we call in the therapy trade magical thinking. Its the idea that what I think in my mind effects the outcome of unrelated events. The classic example is wearing your lucky shirt on game day so the Patriots don’t lose. It’s a nice illusion of control in which many fans (especially of the Patriot variety) participate. But that doesn’t make it so. The reality here is that not getting your hopes up does not increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. In fact, the opposite may be true in a very real and verifiable way. For instance, if my friend doesn’t get her hopes up and therefore acts blasé about the interview and fails to prepare as well as she might otherwise, then she could actually be hurting her chances of success. Why would she do that?
The other thing this brings to mind is a bit of a Puritan ideology of delaying gratification. (We are constantly running from what the Puritans taught us around here.) If we enjoy less now, then when hell and damnation come calling, it will feel less bad because we expected it and prepared for it. If we are good and get to heaven, then good for us for being good by suffering and expecting the worst! Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Hell and damnation are always bad. So is disappointment. Under no circumstances does it feel good, whether you expected it or not. There is no savings of pain in the future.
We might say, well we didn’t really think it was going to happen anyway, but the truth remains, we hoped it would. If it doesn’t we are in fact disappointed. Now that is something we can control. We can learn how to deal with disappointment. We can learn how to create opportunity out of adversity. We can learn to live more fulfilling lives based on hope and optimism. And anyway why undercut the present hope if we don’t have to? Seems like needless suffering and a waste of emotional energy to me. Don’t we want more hope and optimism, not less? Maybe that is what ends up giving us the enthusiasm that the interviewer perceives and sways the decision in our favor.
So, go ahead. Be positive and hopeful. Be true to yourself and what you want. If it doesn’t work out, that’s life. You can deal with that. But what if it does work out? Then you can say, I knew it all along. Go ahead. Get your hopes up and see what happens.
Andrew D. Kang, JD, LICSW, is a former attorney turned licensed psychotherapist. His practice, Boston Professionals Counseling, LLC, focuses on helping attorneys and professionals with the issues they face and is located in Boston, Massachusetts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.bostonprofessionalscounseling.com