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The Evolution of Hope and Despair



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The Evolution of Hope and Despair By Randolph M Nesse Love joins hate aggression fear expansiveness withdrawal and so on in blends designed not to promote the happiness of the individual but to favor the maximum transmission of the controlling genes Wilson 1975 E can be useful only if they influence the future so it is not surprising that they are aroused mainly by events that change our appraisals of whether we will be able to reach our goals Events that indicate that our efforts will succeed arouse hope Events that suggest that our efforts are futile foster despair We experience hope and despair not at the beginning or end but in the midst of our long term efforts These efforts arise from the deep values of cultures and their individuals so social attitudes toward hope for their success and despair at their likely failure are not taken lightly In fact most cultures have norms that specify the correct attitude towards hope and despair Attempts such as this article to think about hope and despair outside of these norms tend to arouse opposition So we will proceed slowly at first For several reasons social ideologies are biased in favor of hope First and most obviously hope can relieve suffering so people naturally prefer it to despair just as they prefer drugs that relieve anxiety to those that cause it Not only do we prefer hope to despair in ourselves we have similar strong preferences for others as Adam Smith so astutely notes MOTIONS SOCIAL RESEARCH Vol 66 No 2 Summer 1999 430 SOCIAL RESEARCH Nothing is more graceful than habitual cheerfulness which is always founded upon a peculiar relish for all the little pleasures which common occurrences afford We readily sympathize with it it inspires us with the same joy and makes every trifle turn to us in the same agreeable aspects which it presents itself to the person endowed with this happy disposition It is quite otherwise with grief Small vexations excite no sympathy but deep affliction calls forth the greatest The



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