Despair (quotes)


Despair is the loss of all hope


The painful results of despair


Despair can feel like a living hell and it can greatly weaken us

  • Despair is the damp of hell, as joy is the serenity of heaven. John Donne
  • There’s only one great evil in the world today. Despair. Evelyn Waugh
  • Worry, doubt, fear and despair are the enemies which slowly bring us down to the ground and turn us to dust before we die. Douglas MacArthur
  • Despair puts the last touch not only to our misery but also to our weakness. Marquis De Vauvenargues Luc De Clapiers
  • Despair often breeds disease. Sophocles
  • Oh rage! Oh despair! Oh age, my enemy! Pierre Corneille
  • Hell

The result of despair is often apathy and indifference

  • Despair is a narcotic. It lulls the mind into indifference. Charlie Chaplin
  • Only one enemy is worse than despair: indifference. In every area of human creativity, indifference is the enemy; indifference of evil is worse than evil, because it is also sterile. Elie Wiesel
  • Despair … is like a gas, odourless, tasteless, without nourishment. You breathe it in, your limbs relax, you cease to care, even at the moment when the steel touches your throat. J.M. Coetzee
  • Apathy and indifference

The result of despair is often depression

  • Effective depression self-help starts with forming the will to take action, and to actually help ourselves. Rather than feeling trapped in a state of despair, we need to do something to generate a spark of hope that it is indeed possible for us to feel better. Amanda Harvey
  • Depression is the inability to construct a future. Rollo May
  • Depression

Causes of despair


Excessive fear can lead to feelings of despair

  • It is a miserable state of mind to have few things to desire, and many things to fear. Francis Bacon
  • When fear is excessive it can make many a man despair. Saint Thomas Aquinas
  • Fear

Indecision and inaction can lead to feelings of despair

  • Indecision leads to inaction, which leads to low energy, depression, despair. George Leonard

Losing your sense of who you are can lead to feelings of despair

  • The most common form of despair is not being who you are. Soren Kierkegaard
  • The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed. Soren Kierkegaard

A sense of hopelessness can lead to feelings of despair

  • My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes. M. Montgomery
  • It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. R.R. Tolkien
  • Despair is the ashes of hope, which the wind of tribulation scatters. Henry Ward Beecher

A sense of helplessness can lead to feelings of despair

  • Despair is typical of those who do not understand the causes of evil, see no way out, and are incapable of struggle. Lenin

Great confusion and change can lead to feelings of despair

  • Innumerable confusions and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition. Marshall McLuhan
  • ConfusionChange

Living too much in the future can lead to feelings of despair

  • It is not hard to live through a day, if you can live through a moment. What creates despair is the imagination, which pretends there is a future, and insists on predicting millions of moments, thousands of days, and so drains you that you cannot live the moment at hand. Andre Dubus
  • AnxietyThe future

Being too attached to our expectations can lead to feelings of despair

  • Oft expectation fails, and most oft where most it promises; and oft it hits where hope is coldest; and despair most sits. William Shakespeare
  • Expectation

Boredom and loneliness can lead to feelings of despair

  • My despair is less despair than boredom and loneliness. Anthony Swofford
  • BoredomLoneliness

Aspiring too much to perfection can lead to feelings of despair

  • You know one of the causes of modern despair is the fact that we have had proposed to us, from various quarters, an impossible perfection. Morris West
  • Persuade thyself that imperfection and inconvenience are the natural lot of mortals, and there will be no room for discontent, neither for despair. Ieyasu Tokugawa
  • Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim. Graham Greene
  • Perfectionism

Being too attached to external things and pleasures can lead to despair, especially the loss of them

  • The pleasures of the world are deceitful; they promise more than they give. They trouble us in seeking them, they do not satisfy us when possessing them and they make us despair in losing them. Madame de Lambert
  • Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. Andrew Solomon
  • AttachmentPleasure

Great doubt and loss of faith can lead to feelings of despair

  • There was a castle called Doubting Castle, the owner whereof was Giant Despair. John Bunyan
  • To doubt is worse than to have lost; and to despair is but to antedate those miseries that must fall on us. Philip Massinger
  • The majority of my patients consisted not of believers but of those who had lost their faith. C.Carl Jung
  • Faith is courage; it is creative while despair is always destructive. David S. Muzzey
  • LossDoubt

Losing your purpose can lead to feelings of despair

  • Losing your life is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is to lose your reason for living. Jo Nesbo
  • Purpose

A person’s first great sorrow in life often leads to feelings of despair

  • There is something sustaining in the very agitation that accompanies the first shocks of trouble, just as an acute pain is often a stimulus, and produces an excitement which is transient strength. It is in the slow, changed life that follows–in the time when sorrow has become stale, and has no longer an emotive intensity that counteracts its pain–in the time when day follows day in dull unexpectant sameness, and trial is a dreary routine–it is then that despair threatens; it is then that the peremptory hunger of the soul is felt, and eye and ear are strained after some unlearned secret of our existence, which shall give to endurance the nature of satisfaction. George Eliot
  • There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow, when we have not yet known what it is to have suffered and be healed, to have despaired and to have recovered hope. George Eliot

Resisting old age can lead to feelings of despair

  • Old age is your own creation: it can be a misery, it can be a celebration; it can be simply a despair, and it can also be a dance. It all depends how deeply ready you are to accept existence, whatsoever it brings. Osho
  • Growing older

Antidotes to despair


Hope and optimism is the antidote to despair

  • What is hope but a feeling of optimism, a thought that says things will improve, it won’t always be bleak, there’s a way to rise above the present circumstances. Hope is an internal awareness that you do not have to suffer forever, and that somehow, somewhere there is a remedy for despair that you will come upon if you can only maintain this expectancy in your heart. Wayne Dyer
  • So long as we are not absolutely bound and imprisoned by the stern law of impossibility, despair can never constitute any part of our duty. While there remains a single ray of hope, or one foothold for another struggle, we are under the highest obligation to pray, and once more to try. Elias Lyman Magoon
  • I do believe that most men live lives of quiet desperation. For despair, optimism is the only practical solution. Hope is practical. Because eliminate that and it’s pretty scary. Hope at least gives you the option of living. Harry Nilsson
  • HopeOptimism

The antithesis of despair is cheerfulness

  • Be cheerful: do not brood over fond hopes unrealized until a chain is fastened on each thought and wound around the heart. Nature intended you to be the fountain-spring of cheerfulness and social life, and not the monument of despair and melancholy. Sir Arthur Helps
  • Don’t fail through defects of temper and over-sensitiveness at moments of trial. One of the great helps to success is to be cheerful; to go to work with a full sense of life; to be determined to put hindrances out of the way; to prevail over them and to get the mastery. Above all things else, be cheerful; there is no beatitude for the despairing. Amelia E. Barr
  • Gaiety is often the reckless ripple over depths of despair. Edwin Hubbel Chapin
  • Cheerfulness

Let hope triumph over despair


It is always better to hope than despair

  • In all things, it is better to hope than to despair. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • If you knew that hope and despair were paths to the same destination, which would you choose? Robert Brault
  • It has never been, and never will be easy work! But the road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveller than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination. Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. Jack Layton
  • Hope

Whether we choose hope or despair is up to us …

  • But hope is no less realistic than despair. It is still our choice whether to live in light or lie down in darkness. Rick Yancey
  • No matter what, we always have the power to choose hope over despair, engagement over apathy, kindness over indifference, enthusiasm over lethargy, love over hate. This is our true freedom. Whatever life may throw at us, we have the freedom and ability to choose our attitude. And I believe it is in those moments of choice that we manifest our destiny. Cory Booker
  • Choice

… even though despair may come more easily

  • She wondered that hope was so much harder than despair. Patricia Briggs

There is always reason to hope and never reason to despair for we can never know the future with certainty

  • Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Despair is for people who know, beyond any doubt, what the future is going to bring. Nobody is in that position. So despair is not only a kind of sin, theologically, but also a simple mistake, because nobody actually knows. In that sense, there is always hope. Patrick Curry
  • Don’t despair: despair suggests you are in total control and know what is coming. You don’t – surrender to events with hope. Alain de Botton

You are as young as your hope and as old as your despair

  • You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. Douglas MacArthur
  • Youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind. You are as old as your doubt, your fear, your despair.  The way to keep young is to keep your faith young.  Keep your self-confidence young.  Keep your hope young.  Luella F. Phean

Some argue that too much attachment to hope can end in despair

  • He who has never hoped can never despair. George Bernard Shaw
  • The person who lives by hope will die by despair. Italian Proverb
  • Despair is vinegar from the wine of hope. Austin O’Malley

They argue it’s all a question of balance

  • You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.’ He paused, considering what he had just said. ‘Yes’, he repeated. ‘In the end, it’s all a question of balance. Rohinton Mistry

Dig your way out of despair


When in despair, resolve to endure and battle on

  • What burning agony of the soul, what direful convulsions of the brain attend despair, when every hope seems gone, and when every throb of the heart is a death-stroke; when the fibre of every nerve is charged with piercing, searching, and writhing tortures, and the intensity of life is upon us; here it is where the unfaltering energy of great minds fails not, but boldly wrestles with it. Acton
  • We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure. Cesar Chavez
  • Life is a battle

Courage is not the absence of despair but the capacity to move ahead in spite of it

  • Courage is as often the outcome of despair as of hope; in the one case, we have nothing to lose, in the other, everything to gain. Diane de Pointiers
  • Courage is not the absence of fear or despair; it is the capacity to continue on despite them, no matter how great or overwhelming they become. Robert Fanney
  • Despair gives courage to a coward. Thomas Fuller
  • To face despair and not give in to it, that’s courage. Ted Koppel
  • Courage is not the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair. Rollo May
  • The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments. Gustave Flaubert
  • Courage

When in despair, try to get some sleep

  • The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep. Joseph Cossman
  • Sleep

When in despair, remember you’re not alone in this world

  • From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength. Cesar Chavez
  • Look, if I were alone in the world, I would have the right to choose despair, solitude and self-fulfilment. But I am not alone. Elie Wiesel

When in despair, talk to a true friend and allow them to just listen

  • When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. Henri J.M. Nouwen
  • Friendship

When in despair, listen to sad music to release your feelings

  • Thank God for beautiful songs about feeling despair when you yourself are in despair. They really get us through. Susannah McCorkle
  • The most despairing songs are the most beautiful, and I know some immortal ones that are pure tears. Alfred de Musset
  • Music

When in despair, search for reasons for gratitude

  • Life is filled with unanswered questions, but it is the courage to seek those answers that continues to give meaning to life. You can spend your life wallowing in despair, wondering why you were the one who was led towards the road strewn with pain, or you can be grateful that you are strong enough to survive it. D. Stroube
  • Gratitude

When in despair, spend some time alone to reflect

  • I need to be alone. I need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion; I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the streets without companions, without conversation, face to face with myself, with only the music of my heart for company. Henry Miller
  • Reflection

When in despair, remember truth and love always win eventually

  • When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it– always. Mahatma Gandhi
  • TruthLove

When in despair, put things in God’s lap

  • God gave you not a spirit of faithlessness, not a spirit of despair. Joseph Barber Lightfoot
  • Now, God be praised, that to believing souls gives light in darkness, comfort in despair. William Shakespeare
  • The fact that God has prohibited despair gives misfortune the right to hope all things, and leaves hope free to dare all things. Anne Sophie Swetchine
  • Trust in God

When in despair, take action for it is the best antidote

  • Action is the antidote to despair. Joan Baez
  • You accept the “isness” of this moment. Then you take action and do all that you can to get out of the mud. Such action I call positive action. It is far more effective than negative action, which arises out of anger, despair, or frustration. Eckhart Tolle
  • I must lose myself in action, lest I wither in despair. Alfred Lord Tennyson
  • Action

When in despair, throw yourself into work

  • He who labours diligently need never despair; for all things are accomplished by diligence and labour. Menander
  • If your determination is fixed, I do not counsel you to despair. Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance. Samuel Johnson
  • It is necessary to work, if not from inclination, at least from despair. Everything considered, work is less boring than amusing oneself. Charles Baudelaire
  • Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair. Edmund Burke
  • Nothing earthly will make me give up my work in despair. David Livingstone
  • We have to go into the despair and go beyond it, by working and doing for somebody else, by using it for something else. Elie Wiesel
  • Work

When in despair, remember that all things pass

  • Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go. May Sarton
  • Impermanence

When in despair, look for humour

  • All my humour is based upon destruction and despair. If the whole world were tranquil, without disease and violence, I’d be standing on the breadline right in back of J. Edgar Hoover. Lenny Bruce
  • Humour is… despair refusing to take itself seriously. Arland Ussher
  • The only real laughter comes from despair. Groucho Marx
  • I can imagine no more comfortable frame of mind for the conduct of life than a humorous resignation. William Somerset Maugham
  • Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. Christopher Fry
  • What other people call dark and despairing, I call funny. David Sedaris
  • Humour

When in despair, learn to let go through the power of acceptance

  • Not doing is not about immobility or giving up in despair. It is first and foremost about being able to be with, to accept fully, what is in this moment. Oriah Mountain Dreamer
  • Acceptance

Even in despair, remind yourself that life is precious and worth living

  • I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know that just to be alive is a grand thing. Agatha Christie
  • If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. Albert Camus
  • Life is difficult but worthwhile

You need to allow yourself to feel your despair in order to release it

  • The pain in those chakras is meant to be felt; experienced. You are going to feel it (the sadness, and despair) move. It’s part of the “push-through”. The energy in the solar plexus, especially, needs to move… Lena Lees
  • Feel your feeings

Meditation and mindfulness can help you to do this

  • Meditation is not meant to help us avoid problems or run away from difficulties. It is meant to allow positive healing to take place. To meditate is to learn how to stop—to stop being carried away by our regrets about the past, our anger or despair in the present, or our worries about the future. Thich Nhat Hanh
  • MeditationMindfulness

However, don’t mentally indulge your despair for this will strengthen it and make it stay

  • I wanted to tell her not to entertain despair like this. Despair wasn’t a guest, you didn’t play its favourite music, find it a comfortable chair. Despair was the enemy. Janet Fitch
  • I will indulge my sorrows, and give way to all the pangs and fury of despair. Joseph Addison
  • It’s funny how despair can soon become an old companion. Jacqueline Carey

Seeing despair in a more positive light


Try to see your despair as something that can turn to positive

  • What we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope. George Eliot
  • When we are flat on our backs there is no way to look but up. Roger W. Babson
  • The depth of our despair measures what capability and height of claim we have to hope. Thomas Carlyle
  • Positivity

Despair can be the end of one life and the start of another


Despair can bring a kind of calm

  • The whole thing is quite hopeless, so it’s no good worrying about tomorrow. It probably won’t come. J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Above all, we must abolish hope in the heart of man. A calm despair, without angry convulsions, without reproaches to Heaven, is the essence of wisdom. Alfred Victor Vigny
  • Despair has its own calms. Bram Stoker
  • Calmness

Despair means you still believe in something

  • When a man is in despair, it means that he still believes in something. Dmitri Shostakovich
  • Belief

Despair can help show you the way

  • When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way. Paulo Coelho

Only through knowing despair can you know true joy

  • Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. Alexandre Dumas
  • For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair. Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • Joy

Desperation is energised despair and can inspire genius

  • Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius. Benjamin Disraeli
  • Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape. William S. Burroughs
  • In life, you need either inspiration or desperation. Tony Robbins
  • Desperation is energized despair. Dean Koontz
  • Genius

Despair has been the inspiration for great art, writing and poetry

  • I think most artists create out of despair. The very nature of creation is not a performing glory on the outside, it’s a painful, difficult search within. Louise Berliawsky Nevelson
  • The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence. Woody Allen
  • Panicky despair is an underrated element of writing. Dave Barry
  • InspirationWriting

We mustn’t view difficulties and troubles with despair for they can be the source of great growth

  • Difficulty need not foreshadow despair or defeat. Rather, achievement can be all the more satisfying because of obstacles surmounted. William Hastie
  • Unfortunate events, though potentially a source for anger and despair, have equal potential to be a source of spiritual growth. Whether or not this is the outcome depends on our response. The Dalai Lama
  • Growth

Final thoughts


We mustn’t despair of human nature, for it is our nature too

  • Man’s nature is not essentially evil. Brute nature has been known to yield to the influence of love. You must never despair of human nature. Mahatma Gandhi
  • The opposite of interpersonal trust is not mistrust. It is despair. This is because we have given up on believing that trustworthiness and fulfilment are possible from others. We have lost our hope in our fellow humans. David Richo
  • The workings of the human heart are the profoundest mystery of the universe. One moment they make us despair of our kind, and the next we see in them the reflection of the divine image. Charles W. Chesnutt
  • We cannot despair of humanity, since we ourselves are human beings. Albert Einstein
  • Law is born from despair of human nature. Jose Ortega y Gasset

Choose to use words of encouragement, not words of despair

  • Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble. Yehuda Berg
  • Encouragement

Boasting and snobbery can be signs of despair

  • Boast is always a cry of despair, except in the young it is a cry of hope. Bernard Berenson
  • Snobbery? But it’s only a form of despair. Joseph Brodsky

Some argue despair is a kind of folly


Some argue despair is a mostly human emotion

  • Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go. May Sarton
  • Hope was an instinct only the reasoning human mind could kill. An animal never knew despair. Graham Greene
  • We are not, however, a species that can choose the baggage with which we must travel. In spite of our best intentions, we always find that we have brought along a suitcase or two of darkness and despair. Dean Koontz


  • If you knew that hope and despair were paths to the same destination, which would you choose? Robert Brault

On a lighter note

  • Despair is perfectly compatible with a good dinner, I promise you. William M. Thackeray
  • Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race. G. Wells
  • He’s got his hands on his knees and holds his head in despair. David Coleman
  • More than any other time in history, mankind faces a cross-roads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly. Woody Allen
  • Patience: A minor form of despair disguised as a virtue.  Ambrose Bierce
  • She wore far too much rouge last night and not quite enough clothes; that is always a sign of despair in a woman. Oscar Wilde
  • Now that I’ve given up hope, I feel so much better.