When Wonder Replaces Hope

by Stephen Mills on August 31, 2009


I got the idea for this article from Susan Jeffers in her book Embracing Uncertainty.  It really struck a chord with me.  The whole idea is that hoping, wishing, wanting, etc. opens you up to disappointment because you cannot control the future.  When what you hope for doesn’t happen, your hopes are dashed.  You then judge the situation as “bad” because it didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to turn out.  You are hurt, disappointed, frustrated, etc.

The idea is to replace your hopes with wonder.  Instead of hoping you’ll get a particular job you wonder if you’ll get that job.  Instead of hoping your partner will act in a certain way you wonder if they will act that way.  Instead of hoping your child will do well in school you wonder if they will do well in school.  Instead of hoping a certain thing happens, you simply wonder what will happen.  Do the same thing with wishing and wanting.

This immediately takes the pressure off of the future by removing the need for it to turn out a certain way.  You are free to let your life unfold in the way it is going to unfold regardless of your hopes and desires.  Wonder frees you from the anxiety of a specific outcome.

This is NOT about pessimism.  Pessimism sucks.  Hope is better than pessimism.  Wonder moves beyond hope and doesn’t open the door for pessimism.  If you had ask me a few years ago what I thought about all of this, I probably would have said it was total crap.  What a difference a few years make!

“Don’t wish for it to happen.
Don’t wish for it not to happen.
Just watch it happen.
Let the wonder of life unfold.” – Susan Jeffers


Expectation is even worse than hope.  It is a stronger version of the same basic problem.  Expectations create attachments to a specific outcome.  Creating expectations just sets you up for disappointment.  You create an expectation and then you start worrying about whether it is going to happen or not.  Even if it does happen, you didn’t enjoy the journey because you worried about it.  If it doesn’t happen, you are crushed.

We need to sever our expectations for specific outcomes and embrace the uncertainty of life.  This doesn’t mean you don’t set goals and work in certain directions.  You absolutely do that.  But you do that with the spirit of wonder and excitement and not expectations.  You don’t attach yourself to a specific outcome.  You can try your best and be happy with whatever happens or doesn’t happen.  You wear your goals very loosely.

The wonder of your unfolding life has replaced your life of hope, wish, and expectation.  You have embraced uncertainty and you have let go of the need to control outcomes which can’t be controlled anyway.  You have slain the monster of disappointment.

“In all things, I suggest you create your goals.  Do your best.  Enjoy the work.  Then let go of the outcome.  When attached to outcomes, by definition, we are attached to unhappiness.  As hard as we try, as fast as we go, we can never feel the security of being in control of the outside world.  When we break our attachment to our expectations of control, we become happier people.”  — Susan Jeffers

What do you think? Leave a comment below.


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{ 3 trackbacks }

When Wonder Replaces Hope · make love
August 31, 2009 at 4:29 am
Labor Day Weekend – Summer Sendoff | Bunny got Blog
September 5, 2009 at 7:32 pm
Are You Setting Yourself Up for Disappointment?
September 11, 2009 at 2:08 pm

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonny | thelifething.com August 31, 2009 at 5:31 am

Steven I found your blog because of the awesome name and this is the first post I have read. It is a beautiful thought.
I will be checking out some more of your blogs, go luck in the future. You have a very personable writing style and I hope you continue to develop it.


Stephen Mills September 1, 2009 at 4:16 am

Jonny, thanks so much and welcome!


Positively Present August 31, 2009 at 5:58 am

Love this! I think that it’s true that hoping for something will often lead to disappointment. However, if we choose to wonder about it instead we’ll probably be less let down if it doesn’t happen the way we imagined it would. This is a great post and definitely made me think! Thanks!
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..look for opportunities (to read!) everywhere =-.


Stephen Mills September 1, 2009 at 4:17 am

Dani, making you think is what it’s all about. Thank you 🙂


Valerie M August 31, 2009 at 8:32 am

I read a book called “Peace Is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh. In the book he mentions that hope has a tragic nature. At the time I was thinking, “If not hope, then what?” Well you really hit a home-run, here Stephen. 🙂
.-= Valerie M´s last blog ..Boredom and lethargy: A sign of the times (and the mind) =-.


Stephen Mills September 1, 2009 at 4:19 am

Valerie, thanks so much for the support. Of course it’s easy to say it but much more difficult to put it into practice. That’s the key – practice, practice, practice wondering instead of hoping.


Shamelle- EnhanceLife August 31, 2009 at 8:34 am

Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations sometimes get out of hand. We are caught up in the possibilities and suddenly the bubble bursts!

I’ve written a post on this about a year go….
Expectations: Is It A human Weakness? http://www.theenhancelife.com/2008/08/expectations-is-it-human-weakness.html
.-= Shamelle- EnhanceLife´s last blog ..Decision Making On Money, Love, Work & Health: Why Decisions Errors Are Made =-.


Stephen Mills September 1, 2009 at 4:20 am

Shamelle, yes and the problem is we don’t control everything. We like to think we can control what happens but we can’t. We can only control our reaction to it. Thanks for stopping in!


alternaview August 31, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Great post and great topic. I couldn’t agree more that we do need to let go of any expectations of outcome and just let things unfold. Although it is sometimes challenging, we do have to trust that things will work out the way they are supposed to and remember that good old truism that their is wisdom in uncertainty.
.-= alternaview´s last blog ..Are you OPEN enough? A Rule of Thumb to Live By… =-.


Stephen Mills September 1, 2009 at 4:22 am

Thank you alternaview. It is challenging and seems to go against our natural instinct doesn’t it?


Walter August 31, 2009 at 10:28 pm

It’s funny how we are blessed with the ability to conjure a future, yet we use it to bring agitations and fears in our present moment. The future is nothing more than an illusion of the mind, but we stick to it as if it’s a fact. Unless we become aware of this we will continue a worrisome life.

Expectations on the other hand is a negative trait many of us harbor. It is the enemy of lasting love.

What you have shared above proves a valuable solution that will enable us to free our self of the trap of the future and expectations. 🙂


Stephen Mills September 1, 2009 at 4:24 am

Walter, welcome! We do use our imagination of the future to bring worry and stress. We destroy the only thing we have – the present!


Giovanna Garcia September 1, 2009 at 12:31 am

The take away I got from this post is:
We have to do our best and not be attached to the out come.
Great message! 🙂
Thanks for sharing.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action
.-= Giovanna Garcia´s last blog ..A little fighter with the best attitude =-.


Stephen Mills September 1, 2009 at 4:24 am

Hi Giovanna! Thanks again. Your one sentence summary nails it! 🙂


BunnygotBlog September 1, 2009 at 7:49 am

People get so caught up in expectation and never think about contributing factors like other people involved and circumstances beyond our control. This is the biggest dumber I know of.

Great article Stephen!
.-= BunnygotBlog´s last blog ..Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Human Needs =-.


Stephen Mills September 2, 2009 at 4:44 am

Hello Bunny! I’ve been doing a lot of observing lately both of myself and others. I’m convinced that most of the negative emotions that I see are are result of frustration that things are not turning out like we expected.


Rosa September 1, 2009 at 8:43 am

I love this way of putting it. This is what comes to my mind when I think about it:
When you say ¨I hope¨ you kinda say it with a down look, or not a very happy face. But when you say ¨I wonder¨ it`s a like a question mark in your face, or even a smile.
Wondering is being curious, but knowing you can`t control the outcome of the future, yet hoping is waiting for something to come out the way you want, therefore might end up in disappointment.
¨Just watch it happen¨ I love that.
.-= Rosa´s last blog ..Lalala =-.


Stephen Mills September 2, 2009 at 4:52 am

Rosa, thanks for commenting. A long time ago somebody put up an affirmative and a negative opinion on hope in a blog article. It got a lot of comments mostly on the side of hope. I think the frustration and negative emotions most people suffer is a result of there hope and expectations over things they really can’t control. I know I used to be there too. Life is so much better when you give that up. That doesn’t mean you give up trying to make things better, trying to grow, or trying to improve. It means you do your best and “just watch it happen”. 🙂


Diggy - Upgradereality.com September 1, 2009 at 8:50 am

Ooh I like this Stephen!

I’ve very much taken this attitude over the last couple months.
What is going to happen will happen, come what may.

Some may see it as fatalistic, but I believe things happen for a reason. Of course I dream about things and hope for certain favourable outcomes, but I have learnt not to place my happiness or value on an expectation.

That way, when things go well, you will be pleasantly surprised and when they go bad, then it doesn’t affect you emotionally as much.

Enjoy the rest of the week!
.-= Diggy – Upgradereality.com´s last blog ..Whether you think you can or can’t…you are right. =-.


Stephen Mills September 2, 2009 at 4:57 am

Thanks Diggy, you enjoy the rest of the week as well 🙂

Like everything else in life, I think everyone has to experience all this for themselves in order to decide what’s right for them. But as far as I can tell, if expectation was such a good thing, the world would be a very happy place because there sure are a lot of expectations out there.


Vin - NaturalBias September 1, 2009 at 9:38 am

At first, the idea of “wondering” seemed too passive to me and I equated it with a lack of passion and determination, but you clearly pointed out that isn’t how it should be and that it’s still important to pursue growth. However, I still question how much you can disassociate yourself from hope, desire, and expectations without it impacting your determination.

In regard to my health and dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome, I did the complete opposite of “holding my goals loosely.” I encountered a lot of disappointment as a result, but I also have a much better life now to show for it. Would I be just as happy today if I was more accepting of my health limitations and didn’t rely on my hope, desire, and expectations to push myself as much as I did? Perhaps, but by doing so, I’d have settled for a much less vibrant life.

I guess there’s no single solution to this. We’re each unique in our tolerance for disappointment and how far we’re willing to push ourselves. The human mind is amazing and allows us to willfully shape our own reality through choice of perception. While some of us are naturally more ambitious and have higher expectations than others, what’s important is that we’re all able to find happiness from our efforts. 🙂
.-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog ..My Story of Determination to Overcome Poor Health =-.


Stephen Mills September 1, 2009 at 7:05 pm

“However, I still question how much you can disassociate yourself from hope, desire, and expectations without it impacting your determination.”

I understand your position Vin, because it used to be where I was at. Through a variety of experiences and exposure to the idea from different perspectives I finally “got it”. It’s hard to articulate how you can do exactly what you are questioning. Perhaps you have to experience for yourself.

I’ve done this exact thing for example with my blog goals around traffic and subscribers. Since I dropped my expectations I have actually done better. I’m not trying any less, I’m not working less, I’m not being less creative, nor am I less determined. I’m much more relaxed and detached from the outcomes and can watch what happens with excitement and wonder. If things go flat I’m not going to be disappointed or upset. I’m not obsessing over a goal. I will just evaluate the situation in a relaxed and pressure free manner and make the appropriate adjustments. When I changed my approach the results got dramatically better. It may be a coincidence and it may not be. I don’t think it is a coincidence.

“Perhaps, but by doing so, I’d have settled for a much less vibrant life.”

I can speak to this one personally because I’ve experience health issues myself. This is an area where I totally calmed down and in fact experienced a flattening of results. But my approach has allowed me to be thrilled with the results while at the same time calmly and creatively looking for ways to do better. Your description of this shows you still don’t get the idea I’m trying to relate. You talk about “settling”. I’m not settling for anything. You talk about pushing yourself and other things that show you are still mixing up effort and determination with attachment to outcomes. I understand that, I truly do. I used to be there.

This gets very complicated and there are issues of scope of control and other things that play into it in various situations. I believe the reason few people, especially driven achievers, follow this approach is because of exactly what you have described.

However I can tell you that I’m much happier and I believe that has actually lead to even better results. It’s a win-win. I believe those better results are due to the fact that my mental energy is not caught up in rising and falling expectations and disappointments that come with attachment to outcomes.

I could go on and on but I think you just have to somehow “get it” yourself. I “got it” from personal experience after encountering the same basic idea in a number of authors. I was able to try it and have it work beautifully. I consider myself still a beginner with this whole idea and approach to life. That excites me because I’ve seen how much difference it has made already and I think I can do much better.


Vin - NaturalBias September 1, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Thanks for your thorough reply, Stephen. I understand what you’re saying and agree that I probably haven’t experienced this enough for myself to truly accept it. However, I can definitely see how the frustration of anticipated disappointment could interfere with decisions and actions and ultimately hinder progress.

I’ll definitely be thinking about this for a while. In fact, I may even write about it for Friday. Thanks for the inspiration!
.-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog ..My Story of Determination to Overcome Poor Health =-.


Zeenat(Positive Provocations} September 1, 2009 at 10:41 am

Hey Stephen,
Expectations suck! Big time!
But Wonder…ahhh….what a wonderful post this is 🙂
I have learned the true meaning of wonder after my little girl was born. When i watch her play or just do something all the time with so much magic and wonder in her eyes for that particular thing…with the smallest of things, the things we might consider stupid..I started seeing things the way she sees them…thats when i discovered Wonder.
If all the time, in every situation and with everyone we could just hold on to Wonder, i think life would just become purely and truly Magical.
.-= Zeenat(Positive Provocations}´s last blog ..Stress Less =-.


Stephen Mills September 1, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Hi Zeenat. I originally had a paragraph in this article about expectations and children but I took it out. I love the way you describe the wonder you experience 🙂


Lea September 1, 2009 at 11:38 am

What an interesting perspective. It fills in the gaps of various concepts of detachment, removing expectations and so forth for me. Thank you for sharing this, Stephen.
.-= Lea´s last blog ..Graham Norton Does Yoga =-.


Stephen Mills September 1, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Hello Lea, that’s fantastic! Thanks for letting me know. 🙂


Mike King September 1, 2009 at 11:45 pm

The purpose of hope is for the feeling when that something is realized. I wouldn’t sacrifice that for a second of wonder. Wonder creates nothing in the end, just more wonder. Its meaningless to me. I’ll stick to hope thanks…
.-= Mike King´s last blog ..Breaking Bad Communication Habits =-.


Stephen Mills September 2, 2009 at 4:39 am

Thanks for your thoughts Mike. I suspect people are using these words to mean different things. Regardless for me hope is useless and I wouldn’t sacrifice another second of my time or happiness for it.


John September 2, 2009 at 8:07 am

Very nice. This is one of those matters that we must constantly be reminded of. Envision yourself achieving your goal, but don’t expect that it completely turn out as you envisioned. Wonder also breeds action – “I wonder what will happen if I do this?” – which is necessary for succeeding.

Thanks for the stellar read.
.-= John´s last blog ..Reflections Upon a Summer’s End =-.


Anita Lobo September 2, 2009 at 8:33 am

Hi Stephen
Great message here, and one that must be arrived at with experience – after hope fails and we wonder why. Its not a ‘secure’ place but it surely is a place of discovery, experimentation and surprise!
I also think this is a way of thinking that parents need to be aware of and help kids imbibe, as an important life skill.
Anita Lobo
.-= Anita Lobo´s last blog ..[NEW] Character, reputation and integrity for young careerists =-.


Karl Staib - Work Happy Now September 2, 2009 at 9:33 am

I liked how you talked about setting goals in the spirit of wonder and excitement instead of expecting a certain outcome.

I’ve been working on this for the past couple years. It hasn’t been easy. I still grasp for a situation to come out a certain way. The best way that I’ve reduced these feelings is staying present with my work. Not worrying about the past or future, but just being there to experience and enjoy.
.-= Karl Staib – Work Happy Now´s last blog ..Save Money and Boost Energy at Work =-.


David Ellis September 2, 2009 at 10:58 am

Great post. This is a keeper.
.-= David Ellis´s last blog ..Just read "When Wonder Replaces Hope" on The Rat Race Trap =-.


Lisis | Quest For Balance September 2, 2009 at 3:23 pm

You know, it’s interesting, Stephen… you posted this a couple of days ago, but I’ve been tied up beginning our homeschool year and didn’t get to it until today… and my post today is about Facing Uncertainty. My whole point was: I am drowning in uncertainty right now… what do I do about it?

THIS… this is the answer. I just need to view the uncertainty with a sense of wonder. Whatever comes next will be a welcome surprise.

Thank you, Stephen!
(PS: I’m kinda glad I got here late, ’cause I got to read everyone else’s comments too!)
.-= Lisis | Quest For Balance´s last blog ..Road to Freedom Update #3: Facing Uncertainty =-.


Patricia September 2, 2009 at 4:23 pm

I have always said Life is Wonder Full and I use the word quite a bit. I so enjoy Susan Jeffers writing and children’s books and I believe she does some of the lovely art work too. Wonder full stuff of life.

Thank you for the reminders this morning and for your well thought out post and words. A joy
.-= Patricia´s last blog ..I Spy…Beauty =-.


Derrick September 7, 2009 at 10:54 am

Yes,to stop the disapoinment we must cherish opinions and be “one with life”. We don’t live our life,life lives us. Thank you for the gret post!


steve [i dance for ten years right now] September 7, 2009 at 6:07 pm

thank you for this. i like it.

at first i mis-understood, & i thought you meant “wonder” in the sense of feeling wonder. being amazed. like a child. in a good way.

in that sense, you could be trading the future (wishing, wanting, hoping) for the present (approaching the currently world with wonder, paying attention to what is already there/here), which would be a good swap too.
.-= steve [i dance for ten years right now]´s last blog ..listening to food cook =-.


Nea September 8, 2009 at 8:38 pm

This was a great article. I love the idea of using that child-like sense of wonder. It’s a much more laid back approach to life. Thanks for sharing.
.-= Nea´s last blog ..A Lesson in Friendship: How to Recognize (and Become) a True Friend =-.


Steve September 9, 2009 at 11:05 am

I think you summed up the heart of the matter with the statement that, by disengaging from the ‘should’s and ought’s’, you will bring yourself a lot more peice of mind. Acceptance brings peace. This is balanced with purposeful planning and goal setting. Thanks for a great post.
.-= Steve´s last blog ..4 Easy Ways to Banish the Monday Morning Blues =-.


Alexis Wingate October 1, 2009 at 12:47 am

Stephen, what a marvelous article! You are truly a gifted writer and are so inspiring. I’m going to check out the book by Susan Jeffers you mentioned as I haven’t read that particular one. I loved Jeffers’ book, “Feel the Fear. . . and Do It Anyway”! The idea of being filled with wonder makes me smile as it makes me think of Alice in Wonderland–the “child of the unclouded brow”. If we look at things that come across our paths with more than hope–with wonder–we will be filled with excitement that will attract wonderful things into our lives. And that’s a great way to avoid pessimism! Also, you chose a great picture to go with the article. Thank you for giving me new insights, and thank you visiting my blog as well! I’m planning to add yours to my blogroll as soon as I have a chance.

.-= Alexis Wingate´s last blog ..Exploit Your Potential! =-.


Jean at The Delightful Repast October 16, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Stephen–All good, but two things leapt off the screen at me: “You can try your best and be happy with whatever happens or doesn’t happen. You wear your goals very loosely.” and “The wonder of your unfolding life has replaced your life of hope, wish, and expectation. You have embraced uncertainty and you have let go of the need to control outcomes which can’t be controlled anyway.” Words to ponder each day.


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