Yes, yes, yes…I know; I’m the guy who is always reminding you of the fact that science is far from the infallible pursuit of truth that it claims to be and is so heralded as. Everything that was bad for us 10 years ago, is now good for us (Coffee, eggs, red meat), and everything that was good for us 10 years ago is now bad for us (strenuous exercise, soy, carrots). Furthermore, the overuse of junk science, such as that which claims plastic straws are killing the planet, have further eroded any legitimacy science used to have.
So when it comes to science, I like to rely on a blend of what it tells us and sprinkle it equal parts common sense and experience; which leads me to unequivocally declare that it is now proven that one of my favorite mantras has been proven undeniably true: Hope leads to despair.
The premise is simple; being hopeful, i.e., getting your hopes up, is the easiest and most reliable way to constantly be let down and live a miserable life of being disappointed at every turn.
The practice is rooted in one of the core principles of human happiness; being present. One of the known keys to being fulfilled as a person is the ability to simply live in the moment and not be disturbed by the past or concerned about the future. Few people ever master it, and many don’t even try, for the constant fretting about everything is their very oxygen. We call them drama queens. But the eternal delusional optimists are living an equally, if not more, vapid life, for they rely on the great mistress of darkness; hope.
Common sense and experience makes all of this seem so obvious it’s almost stupid that I have to explain it. People are constantly building things up in their mind before they happen, and then being let down when they do. The most obvious example, of course, is weddings. Almost no wedding ever goes as planned, let alone as the “dream scenario,” so many morons try to make them out to be. Perhaps an even better example, since it happens multiple times to almost everyone every year, are vacations. Whether it be a long weekend or an extended getaway, study after study after study has shown that people are far happier planning their vacations than actually taking them. Why? Hope. They are hopeful when planning them. They are living in the future, imaging how everything will look and feel when it goes perfectly, which it never does. The destructiveness of this is beyond measurable. While they are plotting out how everything is going to go, they are living a fantasy while not living the moment of the day. They lose precious time today, dreaming about tomorrow; and then, when tomorrow arrives, they are almost always let down because nothing can live up to the delusional scenario they’ve painted in their mind beforehand.
And now science has chimed in with a chemical explanation as to why delusional optimism and anticipation are quite literally, toxic.
When life doesn’t live up to peoples’ pre-conceived expectations, they release higher levels of Cortisol into their bodies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars in the bloodstream, curbs functions of the immune system, and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. Those are all very bad things if the big words got the best of you. And the more cortisol we release, the worse it is for us, which is why people who are always looking forward, rather than living in the now, are the least happy and least healthy.
Overexposure to cortisol puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
Which is why, after myriad studies, doctors and scientists are now literally advising people to focus on more negative information than positive. Basically, we know now for certain that reality is the best state to live in. Life is mostly an influx of negativity, which is why the positive things stand out and make us so happy…but only if they’re real, and not anticipated. Part of the sheer joy of meeting good people or having an amazing time is the unexpectedness of it all. If you’re constantly demanding/hoping for the best, and it rarely happens, you are constantly let down in Cortisol-Land. And when it does happen, all it is turns out to be is what you expected, and the wonderment of it all is forever lost.
A couple weeks ago, my wife and I went to the Sam Smith concert. I hate his music and had no desire to see his stupid show, so I had no positive expectations of the actual performance. At the time of the show, Christina was three weeks into law school and we had barely seen each other and were both exhausted. All I anticipated was being together. Nothing more. No demands, no storyline, no expectations, no hope. In the end, it was a magical night. She and I lived in the moment, found humor and joy in all things, and saw an amazing show that ranks as one of the 5 best I’ve ever seen, despite having literally been to more than 1,000 concerts in my life. No hope, no despair, pure wonderment. Meanwhile, someone who had spent months looking forward to the night and planning it out got the show they merely expected, and an evening of let-downs defined by life; dinner wasn’t as good, people weren’t as nice, plans didn’t go as planned, and thus, despair.
This is not an indictment of optimism, which is far different from hope and delusion. An optimist has the ability to retain a positive outlook in the face of seemingly overwhelming contradictory evidence. In other words, they know everything will work out, usually (and hopefully) based on their own self-confidence to find a way to make it such. Hopers are not optimists, they are children, and children cannot function in an adult world filled with adult challenges.
And therein lies the bottom line; as we continue to raise generation after generation of adult children, it should come as no surprise why everyone is seemingly so angry about everything. Their hopes are constantly being dashed, leading them to despair, which creates a level of trauma they simply can’t bear. Hillary didn’t win like they hoped, their football team didn’t win like they hoped, their date didn’t go as they hoped…and the despair piled onto the despair is too much for people who simply have no concept of just living and taking what may come. Ironically, there is no hope for the hopeful; the final delicious insult at the end of a life lived poorly.