Hope Is an Obstacle
What I learned from Oliver Burkeman’s new book “Four Thousand Weeks”
Times are hard. We’ve screwed up the climate and democracy in ways that are too complex to untangle in any satisfying amount of time. The Supreme Court is not going to protect us—in fact, it’s grabbing its guns and coming after us, too.
So it’s hard to remain hopeful, but that’s the wrong goal. What comes after hope is the good stuff. Here’s a secret: Breaking up with hope opens the door to true joy and strength.
We’ve been gaslighted into believing that hope is all powerful. It is not. Regarding cancer, everyone tells you that “positive thinking” is the ticket back to health, piling the burden of toxic positivity on the people already facing a rough time. Caitlin Flanagan’s recent Atlantic article on this topic opened the windows and let in the light. Repeat after me: Positive thinking does not impact health outcomes. By all means, continue to think positive if that’s who you are. But don’t feel pressure to don the suffocating cloak of positivity if it’s just not your style. Be who you are meant to be, and don’t let anyone force you into becoming an optimistic caricature of your true self.
We actually don’t need hope. What we need is joy and strength, and waiting around for hope often gets in the way. Hope is an obstacle.
Because hope slows us down and makes us soft. It’s the processed carbs of emotion, especially yummy in times of stress but nutritionally void and leaving us hungrier just moments later.
What is more “nutrient dense” is to move beyond hope and instead focus on making meaning by doing “the next and most necessary thing” we can do. This is the argument Oliver Burkeman makes in his new book, Four Thousand Weeks, Time Management for Mortals. (If you listen to the audiobook, you’ll hear Oliver deliver this “beyond hope” message with his chipper and disarming British accent).
The title of Burkeman’s book alludes to his main argument that the average healthy human with access to nutrition and healthcare has (only) about four thousand weeks in which to meander around the earth and find purpose. But this is not alarming — it is actually freeing. Burkeman argues that we shouldn’t stress about figuring out the very…