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21 Songs About Hope To Listen To When You Need Inspiration

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

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.

I'll Take You There

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.

Plus, Dolly.

Dolly Parton Light Of A Clear Blue Morning (Clear Copy)

3) Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – Monty Python

Chipperly singing yourself out during your own crucifixion? Irony or world-class optimism?

The former, surely, as Eric Idle wrote it for Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

And there are definitely some not-so-hopeful lyrics in this verses.

But it’s also a chuckler and a toe-tapper.

So, even when it gets brutally honest (i.e. depressing), it’s hard not to just keep grinning along.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life Sing-Along - Monty Python

4) 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.

Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey - When You Believe (Official HD Video)

5) 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.

Gloria Estefan - Coming out of the Dark

6) Ain’t No Hole In The Washtub – Ma & Emmet Otter (Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas)

You want to talk pure optimism even when you don’t have much to be optimistic about?

That’s this song in a nutshell.

Similar in vein to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” it eliminates the cynical undertones.

Basically, it’s pure of heart and heartwarming and came in at #2 on our list of All Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas Songs Ranked.

Ain't No Hole in the Washtub | Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas | The Jim Henson Company

Songs for Healing and Hope

A lot of time when hope falters, there’s a reason for it, like big changes, disappointments or losses casting shadows over our lives.

These next songs are about finding hope in times of change when a little healing would go a long way.

7) 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.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) - Hard Candy Christmas Scene (9/10) | Movieclips

8) 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.

Gloria Estefan - Always Tomorrow

9) 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.

Abra Moore - I Believe

10) 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.

11) 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.

Mavis Staples - "We Get By" (feat. Ben Harper)

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.

12) 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):

RUTHIE HENSHALL - I Dreamed a Dream (Fantastic Version)

As re-written for Glee (because there are worse things than hearing Idina Menzel and Lea Michele sing this song):

I Dreamed A Dream- Idina Menzel and Lea Michelle

And this version in which Aretha Franklin tells despair to go f*ck itself:

Aretha Franklin - I Dreamed A Dream

13) 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.

I THINK IT'S GOING TO RAIN TODAY - Randy Newman (BBC Live 1971)

Check out this Norah Jones version:

I THINK IT IS GOING TO RAIN NORAH JONES

14) 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.

R.E.M. - Everybody Hurts (Official Music Video)

15) 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.

Faith Hill - Where Are You Christmas?

16) 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.

Sara Bareilles - She Used To Be Mine (Official Video)

And this Tony performance featuring Jessie Mueller is utterly heartbreaking:

Waitress Tony Performance She Used To Be Mine

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.

17) 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.

Louis Armstrong - What A Wonderful World

18) 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.

Nat King Cole - Smile - Lyrics

19) 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:

Payton Taylor - When Irish Eyes Are Smiling (Acoustic Cover) // The Church Sessions

20) I Know Where I’ve Been (from Hairspray)

How it’s possible for a song to be this hopeful and this melancholic at the same time is a feat of songwriting that blows my mind.

We’re gonna get there, it says.

Change does come. But we better keep working because we sure as hell don’t want to go back.

It’s devastating in its conviction.

'I Know Where I've Been' Jennifer Hudson | HAIRSPRAY Live!

21) Tomorrow (from Annie)

And, finally, to put an exclamation point on our list, we’re ending with what may be the best-known hope song of them all (that’s not a true measurement, just an assumption pretty much everyone has heard this song).

Is it melancholy? Absolutely.

The lyric “So ya gotta hang on ’til tomorrow” hits a lot of different ways.

But it also brims with hope.

Which is what hope songs are all about really – finding faith in the midst of gloomier reality.

ANNIE (1982): “Tomorrow” Full Clip | Sony Pictures Kids Zone #WithMe

Related: 10 Songs About Not Giving Up

Top photo by Lynnelle Richardson from Pexels

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