I bought a lottery ticket. I hope to win. That would be so cool, wouldn’t it?
Do I think I’ll win? No. I fully understand the odds are against me. Then why did I buy one? I bought it because I’ve been thinking about hope and whether or not it is a powerful motivator.
I recall my friend Brian, who also understands the odds, justifying his weekly purchase of a lottery ticket with this statement, “God can’t let you win unless you buy at least one.” Brian was full of hope.
Buying a lottery ticket perfectly illustrates our feeling of hope. Once you’ve bought one, and before the drawing of the winning numbers, you can dream of all the things you’ll buy, and all the ways your life will be improved by several million dollars. It’s fun to dream, and hope makes us feel better. But does it improve our lives?
Some of the wisest people who have lived do not think so. Benjamin Franklin said, “He that lives upon hope will die fasting.” Friedrich Nietzsche laments, “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.” And, Aristotle observed, “Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.”
Hope is defined as: “To wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment.”
I’m going to vote in the presidential election. I hope my candidate will win. In the nine times that I previously voted for president, I only voted for the winner once. And then, only because I switched at the last minute to become a single-issue voter instead of voting with my core beliefs. I’ve regretted it ever since.
Since I can’t seem to pick a winner, why do I keep voting? Hope, of course. Hope for what, you ask? Mostly that the economy will improve, and that an environment that is good for business will be fostered. Napoleon Bonaparte probably explained best why I vote: “A leader is a dealer in hope.” And, I hope the elected winner will fix all the messes I perceive in the country.
I hope for peace and prosperity in the world. There is a certain beauty in hope; it paints a picture of perfection in our minds, and that makes it all the more appealing.
I hope my friend who has cancer will survive. I hope he has hope, too, because I believe what Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, said: “To live without hope is to cease to live.”
Hope, however, is an extrinsic motivator. It is what we have when we feel like we have no power to alter the outcome. It is what we have when we depend on external factors to help us. We have given up on making a change by ourselves; we are now dependent on some benevolent force to make our condition better or our dreams come true.
Hope is the last-ditch motivator. There is a reason why it sat in the bottom of Pandora’s box. When we have nothing else left to go on: the concentration camp prisoner, the innocent person on death row, the homeless person who has lost everything; when we are rendered impotent by circumstances, hope motivates us to keep going. That means, as a motivator, hope does have power, or as Roman Senator Marcus Tullius Cicero noted, “While there’s life, there’s hope.”
Unfortunately, hope is not the type of motivator that is going to help us succeed in life. Success comes from the intrinsic motivation of desire and ambition (and sometimes fear). Napoleon Hill said it best: “Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.”
While hope makes us feel better, it is not enough; it must be backed by commitment and, above all, action.
Nevertheless, I still hope to win the lottery.