Why Should I Continue to Hope?: A Philosophical Analysis of Romantic Idealism

I’ve asked myself so many times: should I stop dreaming? It’s sort of a cliché that the young are idealists wrapped in ignorance while the old are realists wrapped in cynicism. Life, as it progresses, seems to recede from us, carrying our hope in its suffocating clutches. I ruminate on ruminating, on the amount of hours spent on envisioning romance, whether of the sexual or purely personal kind. That part of my life was, and continues to be, consumed by fantasy. Like Jay Gatsby, I convince myself that if I keep planning and dreaming, all of my desires will eventually come true.

Most of my clients tell me that they’ve given up on hope as a byproduct of ridding themselves of disappointment. In order to keep out of harm’s way, they’ve suffocated their inner children, resolving instead to “grow the fuck up.” Listening to their stories, I, as I’m sure most others, can’t help but to approve and agree. It seems that all hope is inevitably bound up in misery, being the inextricable predecessor to our own torment. Like my patients, I’ve hoped for love, success, recognition, and acceptance; and like them, I was always let down, by people and life. So, they’d ask: why would I keep doing something so obviously insane? Isn’t that a form of self-harm? Holy shit, what a question! Is hope a form of self-harm? Wow. C’mon, be honest, it smacks you in the face with its force.

How many times did you hope for something that just didn’t occur? Dozens? Hundreds? And, plus, isn’t The Great Gatsby a cautionary tale, warning of the perils of hope? Why should we hope and dream when we’re no longer children? All of this sounds reasonable, yet I still can’t agree. Because dreaming has always been such an important part of my mind. When I was a boy, I’d dream about comic book heroes and professional wrestlers. As a teen, I’d dream about girls who maybe only slightly felt the same as I did. And as an adult, I’d dream about fame. So, I’d ask myself: why did I do it? What the hell was the common denominator? Simple: it was joy. In my moments of reverie, I felt nothing but joy, the joy of creation, the joy of love, and the joy of joy. Some of my happiest moments are wrapped up in fantasy, enmeshed with hope.

Maybe, I thought as I was hearing my client, the pure version of joy lies in the hope; perhaps, it’s linear. Maybe, we begin with ecstasy, progress to contentment, and end in disappointment. What if that’s how it’s meant to be? And, what if, because we want and even worse, expect, perpetual happiness, we choose to ruin the preceding moments? Cynicism only makes sense when we only look at the end, kind of like thinking about life while only considering death.

I’ll agree that all my hope ended in sorrow, but, if I were to broaden my perspective, I’d also admit that I’ve never been happier. I now believe that we aren’t supposed to leave hope and that it doesn’t ever leave us. When we mature, hope is simply seen and accepted for what it is, a fantasy based in some small way on reality. Dreaming, whether we’re sad or not, is meant to boost each person’s sense of well-being. Ridding ourselves of it isn’t the answer, but taking it a bit less seriously is. I think that I can now accept life’s disappointments by enjoying their accompanying fantasies; this, I believe, is what it means to grow up.

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