It is scarcely necessary to define the word hope, for we all know what it means by experience. But it may be said that it is a combination of desire and expectation. We may desire something without expecting to get it, and we may expect something to happen that we certainly do not desire. But it is only when we expect to get what we desire, that we hope.
It is natural of man to hope. The poet, the Pope, has put it well:
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be, blest.”
That is, we rarely think we have all we desire now, but we think we shall have it sometime in the future. And it is well that hope has such a lot of vitality and is so hard to kill. As a great man said, “We live by hope”: it is hope that keeps us alive. When a man loses all hope or falls into despair, he must die.
We live a good deal in the future. On a dull day we comfort ourselves that it will be fine tomorrow, and “wait till the clouds roll by”. We bear up in illness because we hope to get better. We endure misfortunes because we hope there’s a better time coming. We work patiently at a dull task because we hope for the reward of our industry. We do not sink under sorrow, because we hope for future happiness, and say to ourselves, “Sorrow may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the mom-ing”. We can even bear injustice, when we can hope for vindication; and many are helped to endure an unhappy life here by the hope of a glorious immortality. “Hope,” says the Bible “is the anchor of the soul”.
But our hopes must be reasonable, or they will lead to disillusionment and bitter disappointment. It is only a baby that cries for the moon. For most of us to hope to be millionaires, or famous statesmen, or authors or kings, is simply silly. We learn by experience what we can reasonably hope for, and we shall only make ourselves miserable by hoping for impossibilities. Optimism, which means hoping for the best, is much better than pessimism, which means expecting the worst; but there is a foolish and uncritical optimism which leads to disaster.
We can tell a man’s character by the things he hopes for. A man, whose chief hope is lots of money, is selfish and greedy; a man, who hopes only for pleasure, is shallow; a man, whose main hope is to be a better person, is an idealist.