Healthy Hope vs Unhealthy Expectation – Hope Series

i will not lose hope - photographic illustration by Jeremy BinnsThis is the last post in the Hope Series, if you haven’t read any of the others, be sure to check them out.  I’ve personally learned quite a bit as I’ve written them and been personally challenged too.  Hope is such a real and powerful aspect to our every day lives, and today we’re going to make a comparison:  Healthy Hope vs Unhealthy Expectation

Healthy Hope vs Unhealthy Expectation

Why does it matter?

William Shakespeare, in an apparent moment of melancholy, made the statement, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” While I don’t think that applies to every situation, I can certainly see the point he is making.

I personally prefer another quote, “What screws us up the most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.” There is a very grey area between healthy hopes and unhealthy expectations.

In one of the other posts, I talked about all of the negative effect that failed hopes have on our lives. Unhealthy expectations are very similar to hopes, but we set ourselves up for relentless heartache and disappointment when we consistently have unhealthy expectations.

On the other hand of the equation we have healthy hopes, which are very similar to expectations.  There are significant differences however.  Healthy hopes fuel the vibrant and flourishing nature of our spirits.

What is an Unhealthy Expectation.

Not all expectations are bad, and the key difference in healthy hope vs unhealthy expectation is much more obvious when we define the word expectation.  The word ‘expect’ is defined as something that we regard as likely to happen.  For instance, I expect to get paid on Friday.

Expectations are those things that we anticipate will happen.  Unhealthy expectations happen when we anticipate results that are outside of our control and influence.

For instance, if you have never spoken to someone before, it would be unrealistic and unhealthy to say that you will likely (expect to) marry that person, or, it would be unhealthy to expect that you’ll lose 150 pounds before Christmas when it’s already October.

What is a Healthy Hope?

One definition of the word hope is to look forward to something with desire and reasonable confidence.  Simply put, hopes are things that we want to happen.  They may be likely to happen, or they may be extravagant dreams that stretch our faith and imagination.

Hopes are attached to possibilities in life.  They are our dreams.  My desire is that the hopes you hold dear tomorrow will be even greater than those you hold today.

Healthy hopes are those hopes which are rooted in arenas of life which we have the power, either directly or indirectly, to influence.  Directly though my own actions, or indirectly through my prayers and by exercising my faith in God to work on my behalf.

With God’s involvement, our hopes do not have to be limited to our own abilities.  Dream big today, and dream even bigger tomorrow.  Stretch your hopes beyond what you would ordinarily ask or think.

It is just imperative that you make the distinction between a healthy hope (no matter how outrageous) and an unhealthy expectation.

To use the relationship example again, go ahead and hope to meet the perfect spouse, but just don’t expect that the first person you meet will be the one. Refusing to let go of your own hopes will often mean that you’ll be unable to take hold of the hopes God has for you.


Here are a few questions that can help you tell the difference between healthy hope vs unhealthy expectation:

1. Can I make this hope / expectation happen, and is it beneficial to myself and others?  If so then go ahead, expect and hope for it.  Just take the actions necessary to see it through.  If not, see question number 2.

2. Is this something that is in alignment with the purpose and plan of God?  If so, then continue to hope for it and exercise your faith to see it come to pass.  Only understand that just because something doesn’t contradict the word of God, it doesn’t mean that it is within the scope of His plan for your life.  If you can’t make it happen, and it isn’t in the plan of God for your life, see question three.

3. If this hope / expectation isn’t within my control and isn’t in alignment with God’s plans for my life, then what am I missing out by holding onto this unhealthy expectation?  Clinging to an unhealthy expectation will prevent you from receiving the best things in life that God has truly purposed for you.

One of the most difficult thing to do in life is to let go of our expectations and dreams. If those dreams are made up of unhealthy expectations though, they will only lead to disappointment and heartache.  Sometimes you have to be willing to let go of the good before you can take hold of the best.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11

View the Hope Series

View the entire hope series here:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post.  Is this something you struggle with?  Is it tough to make the distinction between healthy hopes vs unhealthy expectations?  Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

About the Author

Jeremy BinnsWhen I'm not trying to save the world from the coming zombie invasion, I love my wife, hug my daughters, write, photograph, listen, observe, explore, and worship.View all posts by Jeremy Binns →

  • Joy

    Thank you for this post. its very thought-provoking. I often struggle with the difference b/w faith and expectations. I get what you’re saying, expectations are within your control whereas hope is linked to faith.

    but what do you think constitutes an unhealthy expectation? what’s wrong with clinging to your dreams? if u let go of something you want b/c it seems out of reach, isn’t that considered a lack of faith? it sounds like losing hope and that’s never a good thing. I’d love your thoughts on that.

    • Jeremy Binns

      Hi Joy, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I really enjoy discussions on the topics I blog about.

      I think you’re exactly right that letting go of something because it’s out of reach would be a lack of faith.

      I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a bit of a geek, and there are so many things that I would enjoy doing that it would take me 100 lifetimes to even get half of them done.

      When I decide that I’m not going to attempt becoming an astronaut, it isn’t because I’ve lost faith that it’s possible. It’s because I’m narrowing down and trying to select the dream that matters the most, and that I believe God has designed for my life.

      I’m a huge fan of dreaming big, bold, outrageous, God-sized dreams! I happen to live in Nashville, TN (Music City – USA) and there are thousands of people here missing out on their true purpose because they are clinging to a dream of signing that big record deal and becoming famous.

      At some point in life, we have to discern which dreams are part of the design for our lives because choosing a dream to pursue will always mean choosing another dream that will not be pursued.

      Hope that helps, and thanks again!

  • Ian

    Hi Jeremy, just found this when doing a google search for ‘unhealthly expectations’. It’s a great blog, I enjoyed reading it… I never hear anyone in my circles ever talk about unhealthly expectations and talking about getting the right balance between hope and expectations… the last number of years, I’ve had problems trying to overcome certain symtons of depression. Trying to nail down where they’ve come from and how they’ve been caused has been very hard. But I do believe having wrong expectations in various area’s of my life and then obviously not meeting them has brought confusion and on-going disspointment.

    Anyway, I just wanted to share. Thanks


  • Jack

    Hi Jeremy,
    thanks for the insight.
    It gives me a glimpse of understanding in differentiating hope and expectation.
    let’s say for example, if i hope to have a house, cars for my family, can i say that as a hope or expectation?
    and if i pray to win a lottery to accomplish what i hope for above, would that be called hope or unhealthy expectation?
    thanks for replying.

    • Jeremy Binns

      Hello Jack, thanks for reading the article.

      I’ll do my best to try and answer your questions. If your desire is to provide for your a house and car for your family, I’d say that is within our culture a very reasonable thing to hope for. When that hope becomes action in the form of making plans, saving, going to work, etc, then I feel like it is a perfectly healthy expectation.

      Praying to win the lottery would probably be an unhealthy expectation for a few reasons. First of all, I suspect there’s a huge percentage of people out there praying to win the lottery. I’d hate to be God trying to decide which one to give it to. Secondly, the lottery is ,purely by the numbers, a very bad investment and financial strategy. The reason lotteries, casinos, etc. are able to exist is because they take way more money from people than they give away. It’s a lot like going to work for a company and giving them 40 hours of labor and they only pay you for every 2 or 3 hours, except for once a year, they pay you for 60 hours. Just not a good plan. Thirdly, I think that praying to win the lottery (and I’ll confess, I’ve been guilty of it at least a few times) :) is in some ways putting our faith in something other than God.

      Hope that helps in some way.

  • Mike

    Hi Jeremy,

    You’ve written a great article here. Id like to know your thoughts about a situation i was recently in. Or am still in, depending on how you look at it.

    About this time last year an argument broke out between myself and a friend of mine. She was going through a difficult time and being the kind of guy I am I made a comment on her Facebook page in an attempt to “help her out” and make her feel better. If ever there was a time to use the saying “No good deed goes unpunished.”, it would be here. Within moments I received several very angry responses both on FB and my phone. I tried my best to understand what was happening but likely only made it worse. No amount of apologizing made any difference. To cut a long story short, by the end of the night a two year friendship had been obliterated and all without leaving the comfort of our homes.

    I love technology, but I have to say that night I could have done without it. She was so upset that she refused to sit down and talk about things face to face. Maybe Im old fashioned, but I believe if you’re going to end any kind of relationship it should be done in person. What made this so difficult was that I had developed feeling for this woman. I dont open myself and heart up to just anyone. I’m not sure if they were romantic feelings, but I genuinely loved here just the same. I still do to this day. almost an entire year later I still care very much about her. Despite a tumultuous friendship, I above all else wish/hope for reconciliation. I have held this desire for a year now. I do not now or ever expect her to change who she is as a person. That remains up to her alone. But I do hope for changes in the way we communicate with each other. I would like nothing more than to one day sit down and have a conversation that ultimately results in a renewed and strengthened friendship. She’s a very emotionally intelligent woman. She is more than capable, though it would appear also stubborn. I have not spoken to her in a very long time. She has blocked all communications. It takes two people to make any kind of relationship work. So for now I have resigned to praying. I can do nothing else. Is this Hope of mine unrealistic? Everytime I convince myself that she’s not worth hanging onto anymore. I feel terrible inside. Its only when I allow myself to believe that one day things will be healed between us that I feel at peace.

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  • Ben Rodriguez

    Awesome article. You seem to be a proverbs man of great wisdom. How do I know whether giving up on something is based on being a quitter or based on it not being aligned with God’s plan for my life? In other words, how do I make that determination and/or distinction?

    Thanks in advance and may God’s favor nd blessing continue being with you.


  • Terry from Aussie

    Good article. Fine line when you listen to faith, “say it and claim it” preachers. Not that I am knocking them. I’m talking about when you hear a preacher say “declare you are healed” or “thank you Lord you have provided all my needs according to Your riches and glory by Christ Jesus”. By your article hope would be unbelief and would be the reason we don’t receive our miracle. However, my experience has been that even these great men don’t receive everything they claim. Man this is confusing!

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." - Jim Elliot

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