According to famed psychologist Richard S. Lazarus, hope is a vital coping mechanism that helps us ward off despair, helplessness, and depression. It requires a belief in the possibility that things can change, giving us the will to keep moving forward.
But hope can be a difficult emotion to summon when times are at their toughest, which is exactly when we need it the most.
While music can’t restore hope, not on its own, it can stir those things in us that help hope grow. So, for those looking for some hope, inspiration, or encouragement, we’ve compiled a list of songs about finding hope in all its various forms.
Uplifting Songs That Give Hope
The following four songs have a general hopefulness about them, great for any time you need a little pick me up in the motivation department.
1) I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers
While I’ve avoided songs with overtly religious lyrics (since that simply doesn’t work for everyone), I’m letting a few songs slide, starting with this one.
Though it’s clear exactly where the “there” in “I’ll Take You There” is (that would be Heaven), it’s also ambiguous enough that “there” can be wherever you imagine such a place to be. And it feels really good to hear Mavis sing it.
2) Light of a Clear Blue Morning – Dolly Parton
My absolute favorite go-to hope song on this list.
The updated version that appeared in the movie Straight Talk is a happier, more upbeat version than the original, and the lyric change was a good one.
3) When You Believe – Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey
Not exactly the musical stylings you might expect of a song meant to instill optimism and it definitely falls into that religious undertones category – it was on The Prince of Egypt soundtrack after all – but this song is simply a powerhouse of emotion.
First, you have two once-in-a-lifetime singers giving it their all (that low note Whitney hits in the first chorus is chill-inducing), and then you have lyrics that are just designed to make you feel things.
It can be a hard listen if you’re at rock bottom, because it’s as much about the fragility of hope as finding it, but damn if it doesn’t rouse belief in something.
4) Coming Out of the Dark – Gloria Estefan
Musically calming and with the best opening lyric on this list – Why be afraid if I’m not alone? – this is a big song.
Big lyrics. Big choir. Big significance.
Because when you remember where this song came from – it was the first single Gloria Estefan released after being nearly killed in a tour bus accident – it’s all the more powerful.
Songs for Healing and Hope
A lot of time when hope falters, there’s a reason for it, like big changes, disappointments or losses coming into our lives.
These next songs are about finding hope in times of change when a little healing is needed.
5) Hard Candy Christmas – Dolly Parton/Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Cast
Often discounted as a Christmas song (It’s not! It’s a simile!) and released as a Christmas song by Dolly, “Hard Candy Christmas” is really a song about tough times and the possibilities that come with unexpected change.
6) Always Tomorrow – Gloria Estefan
Not all change is bad change, and this song is about a different kind of change – the kind you choose for yourself.
It’s also about not closing yourself off from the world and about embracing your own power to make a difference.
7) I Believe – Abra Moore
Very similar in theme to “Always Tomorrow,” the lyrics of this song find its protagonist embracing the outlook that something must change.
Abra Moore’s voice gives the early lyrics emotional resonance that’s hard to shake off, but the song’s titled “I Believe” so it’s hopeful in the end.
8) Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
More upbeat and less lyrically intense than most of the songs on this list, this is the song you want to listen to if you’re looking for limited introspection and more positive vibes.
It’s meant to be reassuring and happy-making, and it is.
Here’s a whole hour’s worth.
9) We Get By – Mavis Staples (featuring Ben Harper)
I think Mavis explains this song best in its video: “It’s what I love to do, to sing a song that’s going to help somebody. To sing a song that’s going to bring somebody closer. It keeps me optimistic that things are just going to get better.”
This song is best for those struggling alongside someone, but it can also be interpreted as the collective “we” and there are plenty of universal lyrics.
Songs About Losing Hope
While I don’t personally recommend going on a bender of songs about losing hope to help you along on your path to despair, it can be therapeutic at times to acknowledge where you are and to have someone to commiserate with, even if it’s just a voice through a speaker.
So, presented with warning, a list of songs about losing hope.
10) I Dreamed a Dream – Les Misérables
The ultimate in lost hope songs, this song became a Broadway standard for a reason.
While it does have some specific lost romance-related lyrics, it’s relatable for anyone who feels as though life turned out completely differently than they thought it would be or who lost their innocence to the reality of the world.
Translation: It’s sad. Very sad.
As originally written (and sung by Ruthie Henshall):
As re-written for Glee (because there are worse things than hearing Idina Menzel and Lea Michele sing this song):
And this version in which Aretha Franklin tells despair to go fuck itself:
11) I Think It’s Going to Rain Today – Randy Newman
This song starts with the lyric “Broken windows” and continues spiraling downward from there.
An ironic lyric makes it all-the-more hopeless. It is hauntingly beautiful, though.
Check out this Norah Jones version:
12) Everybody Hurts – R.E.M.
There is no attempt to find hope in this song. Sometimes you just can’t.
This song is about clinging to life long enough to have a chance to look for hope tomorrow.
And it has one of the coolest music videos of all time.
13) Where are You Christmas – Faith Hill
Out of a Dr. Seuss story came some of the most painfully hopeless lyrics ever written. Seriously, imagine thinking that even Christmas gave up on you.
Written for the live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas, with help from Mariah Carey, this song is from the perspective of the Grinch and it’s sympathetic.
It has a happy ending, but before it gets to that point, it’s all about finding yourself alone in overwhelming despair.
14) She Used to Be Mine – Sara Bareilles
Feeling like you’ve lost yourself may be the most hopeless feeling of all. How can anything get better when even you can’t help you?
This song, written for the Broadway musical Waitress, captures that feeling with unparalleled eloquence.
And this Tony performance featuring Jessie Mueller is utterly heartbreaking:
Songs About Hope with a Little Melancholy
Not all hopeful songs feel particularly hopeful, no matter how hopeful their lyrics might be. It’s weird, but it’s true.
When you want to believe in the possibility that things will get better, while still feeling your feelings, these three hopeful songs with a touch of melancholy should do the trick.
15) What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the performance, maybe it was seeing it used ironically as the background track for a particularly disheartening montage in Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine that gives this song such a melancholy air, but it always sounds tinged with sadness to me.
16) Smile – Nat King Cole (and many others)
This song is less ambiguous about its message.
It knows you’re hurting.
It knows life’s a struggle.
But it does hope you’ll keep plodding along with an occasional upturn of your lips.
17) When Irish Eyes are Smiling
Described as a “lighthearted song” on Wikipedia, it is when sung in its popularized upbeat tempo. But drop the chorus and sing a slow rendition of the verses, and a much different song emerges from its lyrics.
Let us smile each chance we get.
Though it leaves out the above lyric, and keeps the chorus in, this version by Payton Taylor proves the point nicely: