Hope: A hazard to your health?

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Results of a new study have left me feeling a bit hopeless.

That story, which appears in today's latest news section, found that chronically ill patients who felt resigned to their conditions were happier initially than those who thought they would get better.

The study focused on patients who received colostomies, or the removal of their colons. Those who were told their conditions were permanent—and they would not have normal bowel movements again—were happier in the first six months than those who were told their colostomies were reversible.

The reasoning behind these findings is that people who thought their conditions would improve sacrificed happiness for hope.

This all makes sense. But it seems rather depressing, doesn't it? You are sick and will never recover so … hey, let's throw a party!

Of course, I'm exaggerating. That is not what the researchers are suggesting. Happiness here implies adjusting to a situation and accepting it.

But that way of thinking seems to run counterintuitive in our culture where hope is basically woven into every American's DNA. Just think of our current president and his campaign of hope and change.

But then again, there is a “dark side of hope,” as one of the study authors said. This is essentially an attachment to an expectation that prevents us from getting on with our lives.

This reasoning may explain why losing a spouse is often easier to recover from emotionally long-term than divorcing a partner, the study offers. Why? That person is no longer around so you can't fret over anything.

While I can't speak to this, I can certainly think of other, more ordinary scenarios where the burden of expectations may apply. Like that New Year's filled with high hopes that turned out to be a dud. Or the flipside: that birthday you were dreading that touched off a new, exciting period in your life.

So the bottom line, as I see it, is that expectations are the real killers. Whenever possible, we should keep them low. That is not to say we shouldn't dream big. But day-to-day, all we can really do is be realistic, make the best decisions we can, and then, only then, hope for the best.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.