How To Find Happiness When You Feel Hopeless

How to Find Happiness When You Feel Hopeless

This month we're talking about contentment. Today we're going to talk about how to find happiness when you feel hopeless. Many of us feel like we're sludging through the solo parent life and all that comes with it. We're bogged down with all we have to deal with and heal from. Some days we can't see a light at the end of the tunnel and feel hopeless. What do we do when we feel this way? How do we experience happiness when we feel hopeless?

Today we're going to talk about three aspects of this. Number one, we're going to talk about the myths that might be holding us back. Number two, we're going to talk about finding contentment while we're trudging. And three, we're going to talk about steps you can take to find happiness, even in that feeling of hopelessness.

Identify some myths that may keep us in a state of hopelessness.

The biggest myth for me is that early on, maybe in my twenties, I thought life should be pain free, and I was doing everything I could to keep it that way. I mean, you name it, I was doing it to keep pain out of my life. I think that's where we get into trouble too: we start doing things when it doesn't feel good. We start numbing or trying synthetic ways to feel happy in the moment.

Another myth is I'm the only one. Everyone else has it better. The bad things that are happening are unique to me. It’s that feeling of being really alone or isolated and meanwhile birds are singing around other people and I'm thinking, “Why me?” Self-pity can kick in for me.

Our culture promotes this idea that we should always be in this state of happiness. And then we start comparing ourselves to people on social media, other single parents, nuclear families, whatever. We can feel like we're all alone and we're the freaks at the picnic. If I felt lonely or sad or hurt, I thought something was wrong with me. After the divorce, I remember being so incredibly lonely and thinking something was wrong with me for feeling lonely. And it's just not true.

If we're expecting to be happy all the time or we compare ourselves to what we perceive others have, it can really make us feel like we're living in this groundhog day of bad things.

How do we move away from hopelessness and into a sense of happiness?

I remember the early days of doing it all alone. I don't have family in the area. I have a great social network, but they weren't in the trenches with me. And I remember praying every single day, “Lord, give me strength for today.” I had to boil it down to one small step, one day at a time, 24 hours at a time. Otherwise, it was so exhausting mentally, emotionally, physically. And I had to let go of aiming for too much in this tough season. A sense of acceptance in it brought me a little bit more peace. I had to change my mindset and some of my expectations.

The upside of single parenting can be walking through the struggle and recognizing that God is with us. If we embrace the struggle–even though trudging through feels like you're not making progress– if you're intentional, you are making progress. I started paying attention to some of the growth happening. I started focusing on, “Well, this is okay. It’s not perfect, but we're here.” And it was a pathway to peace and healing.

I remember praying and being like, “I am so tired of feeling this pain.” There was no escaping it. Even if I did have a good day, it was like the pain came right back, just like a bungee cord. It made me think about when I went to a music festival, and it rained all weekend long. By Saturday night it was just like disgusting mud, and it was super dark out there. You never knew where you were going to step and what was going to happen. And I stepped right into this mud pit, probably up to my knees. I was wearing sandals or something. It was suctioning my feet in there–it was so thick. With this whole idea of trudging, you have to keep moving to get out of the mud, but it keeps sucking you back in. You finally make a step forward and then stumble backwards. It doesn't feel like you're making any progress. But by the grace of God, I can sit here today and say I literally made it out of that mud at Bonnaroo, but also figuratively through the pain. It’s such a hard place to be. And when you're in it, it does feel hopeless. Like, am I ever going to not feel this pain? Am I ever going to make it past this? Am I ever going to make forward progress? I coped by emotionally slogging through one small step at a time. I would go for a walk and be like, “Lord, this is too much” and look for any sign of hope I could. I would walk down the trail from my house and see one little small flower and think, “Whoa, there's someone who loves me. There's a Creator that's bigger. There's a beautiful gift.” I forced myself to notice small things that would remind me there's life outside the pain. You're going to make it through the muck and mire. I looked for little, tiny, small moments of hope. You have to.

I was in Italy and took a trip with my wife. I'm remarried now, but we went to the isle of Capri. There are these Faraglioni stacks, these beautiful huge rock formations that come out of the ocean. It’s very dramatic and scenic. We were standing on the cliff above going, “Gosh, those are gorgeous.” And my wife said, “Look, there's a pathway down to them.” So, we went down a really steep decline. But when I looked at how far we had to go back up, I felt so overwhelmed. I remember deciding to focus on the one stair in front of me. There were carved-out pieces of rock laid intentionally to give you a foothold on the way up. As much as I didn't want to walk all the way back up, I focused on just one stair. I told myself each rock was hand-chiseled by someone, laid intentionally for me to take the next step. Step by step, I focused on the story of the man or woman who chiseled it. This immediately helped me find contentment where I was. I focused on the bigger story happening at that moment and trusted that eventually I would get to the top–but I wasn’t going to focus on the top. Finding contentment is focusing on a bigger story that's going on. But it starts with a little flower or a step that's intentionally laid. There has to be a belief that you're going to get to the top of the cliff that you were on.

How do we move to finding happiness in the midst of feeling hopeless?

The biggest thing is we have to accept reality. Accept what's true, accept what's in front of us. Focusing on the end result keeps us stuck in despair and hopelessness instead of focusing on the good in front of us. Also being aware that sorrow and suffering are a part of the human experience. The reality is, in this world we're going to find trouble. Our hope is not here. But that is not just pep talking ourselves out; it helps our kids recognize the pursuit of happiness just for the sake of happiness is not the benchmark. Happiness can come from contentment, even in the midst of struggle.

Having other people not only in the process, but someone to sit down and talk to. Hearing other people's stories of trudging and making it to the other side is a big, big part of the process. You’ve got to have other people around you. Leaning on someone else's hope or strength when you can't find your own is a huge strategy for making it through.

One thing that really got me through is in the second half of the serenity prayer: “Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace, taking as He did the sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him in the next.” It’s a good reminder that there's going to be struggle and we have to take life on life's terms just as Christ did.

It frees us from searching for the pinnacle of supreme happiness or the absolute best version of life that we could possibly imagine. It allows us to find peace, acceptance, joy, and contentment in the life we're living. There's a quote from the 24 Hours a Day book that says, “Life is not a search for happiness. Happiness is a byproduct of living the right kind of life, of doing the right thing. Do not search for happiness, search for right living and happiness will be your reward. Life is sometimes a march of duty during dull, dark days. But happiness will come again, as God’s smile of recognition of your faithfulness. True happiness is always the by-product of a life well lived.”

I've been reflecting on a story of an unrealistic expectation that turned into a “good enough” expectation to help find contentment. When I got divorced, I was coming out of a pinnacle moment in my career where I was making a lot of money. I had a lot of influence. By measure of society, I was doing great. Then I moved into a season of trying to start a business and there’s obviously considerably less money doing that or getting into the nonprofit sector. But what happened to me is: I don't have as much as I used to, but I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm happier now than I've ever been. It has nothing to do with the financial condition that I'm in; it was a mindset change of finding adventure in living in a state of dependence on God.

Finding contentment breeds happiness. Resizing expectations became a very real thing. Since that time, money is just not that important to me. I want to keep a roof over my head, but I'm not clamoring to get a job that will make me successful. I don't measure life the way I used to. My mindset is completely different.

We find contentment when we simplify and get back to the basics of trusting God, knowing He's with us in the muck and mire. God was the source of my contentment when very little could bring me a sense of peace and hope. Prior to my Solo Parent days, I was not in touch with God meeting my needs: I found a way to be successful. When you start learning this dependency, there's contentment and peace and happiness that has nothing to do with your achievement.


Having unrealistic expectations about what happiness or the source of happiness is sets us up for failure.

To find contentment while trudging through the hard, it’s important to change your mindset, stay away from comparison, and be satisfied with “good enough.”

Accepting reality, trusting the process, and being in community are practical steps toward finding happiness.

Listener Question

Hi, I’m Chrissy, a single mom. I'd love to hear advice and encouragement from those of you who either started working for the first time when becoming solo or who made a drastic career shift during this time.

When I first became a single mom, I had been a stay-at-home mom and really enjoyed that. I remember thinking, “Whoa, I need a job. I need to have a source of income.” And I felt so intimidated. What was I going to put on my resume? That I can load the dishwasher really efficiently? I remember sitting on the couch thinking, “Lord, I need exactly the right job that would work for a former stay-at-home mom with very little marketable skills.” God met that need in a miraculous way. I was describing in my head, “I need a job where I could still pick my kids up, bring them to school … It needs to be short hours. They need to have some understanding of my situation. And it would be nice if I didn't have to get dirty or really messy. I just kind of laughed. I thought, “Lord, how is that even going to be?” And as I sat there praying, less than a minute later, my phone rang, and it was somebody who said, “Your name's come to mind several times and there's this job that popped up.” And I thought, “Lord, you have an amazing way of meeting our needs and such a sense of humor, because I had laughed and was like, ‘Ha ha, that's silly. God, that's not going to happen.’” There was nothing I did to deserve it or earn it, but he met that need, and I am forever grateful.

I had a steady job when I first got divorced. That was something I could rely on but I really felt it was time to move in a different direction. I had been toying with the idea of starting my own PR, publicity company. And so that's what I did. I stepped out, but I did it in a very intentional way and was praying a lot. In the beginning, it felt like God was closing a lot of doors, and then all of a sudden after several months, a lot of doors started opening. I was able to replace my income, do it in the right way. I really felt like God led me out of my corporate cushy job into having clients, being able to stand on my own two feet and do something exciting from an entrepreneur standpoint.

During the early solo parent days, I wanted something to do with my girls. My plan was to do another record company, and I had to shift, and I prayed, “What am I going to do?” God provided an opportunity for me to create a media company that I worked with my girls. We did television shows and tours and records which then turned into Solo Parent. The trudging is one step at a time. It is just trusting God, trusting the process. God will bring the right things, whether it's standing on your own in the same field or moving into a completely different world. I never thought I'd be in a nonprofit role. God started opening doors, but it wasn't without putting one foot in front of the other.

This verse is so foundational for me, especially when you think about trudging. It says, “So do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed. For I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10.

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