I asked one woman, Shajada — a name she chose for herself to protect her identity and her family back in Myanmar — what she hoped for her future. She responded via the interpreter: “Do you mean in terms of food?”
I tried to clarify and re-clarify the question through the interpreter. Shajada, who had suffered an injury to her legs and hips while fleeing the Myanmar army that’s left her almost immobile, finally did answer: “I don’t hope anything for me. I don’t hope for me because I cannot even move from one place to another because if I move, I fall down.”
In the US and in most western countries, we experience hopelessness many times because we plan our lives across months or years. Our next big vacation, next home, car purchase or retirement. I bring this up not with the intention of provoking guilt or shame, but to point out how our high standard of living manufactures an artificial basis for anxiety and crisis. I fall into this trap all too often myself.
ACCEPTS is a group of crisis survival skills taught in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy; Contribution and Comparisons are the two “C’s” in this acronym. ACCEPTS is meant to get us through distressing moments without engaging in harmful behaviors but they can also connect to something greater.
Comparisons (comparing yourself to folks who are doing the same or less well than you are) can lead to gratitude. What’s so good about gratitude?
Froh et al9 conducted a study in which 221 adolescents were assigned to either a gratitude exercise (i.e., counting one’s blessings), a hassles condition, or a control condition. As predicted, the gratitude condition was associated with greater life satisfaction. The authors concluded from their experience that counting blessings seems to be an effective intervention for enhancing well being in adolescents.
In a sample of 389 adults, Wood et al10 examined gratitude and well being in the context of personality style. In this study, gratitude was most strongly correlated with personality attributes related to well being, and the researchers concluded that gratitude has a unique relationship with life satisfaction.
Like the preceding authors, other studies have found similar findings. For example, among Taiwanese high school athletes, Chen and Kee11 found that gratitude positively predicted life safisfaction. Tseng12 found an association between gratitude and well being among 270 Taiwanese college students. Finally, Froh et al13examined 154 adolescents and confirmed associations between gratitude and life satisfaction.
If we redirect expectations to connect to the present and what is available to us in the present and how that contrasts with the rest of the world, we may discover our lives are not as “in crisis” as we may seem to feel or believe. With this knowledge, we can even go a step further towards Contribution (doing something for someone in need) which can range from the simple (making a meal for an elderly neighbor) to the complex (advocate for a group of people who need your help through charity or presence). In Contribution, we demonstrate our mastery to solve problems and gain the insight and knowledge that we are not only capable of helping ourselves but others as well.
This all leads to hope.
As a side note, I encourage you to read the article from NPR – referenced above. It has a little bit to do with what I’m talking about here from a different perspective. If the story makes you feel like taking action, then by all means do.