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Empowering A Child With A Wish: Science is on the side of HOPE

Empowering A Child With A Wish

When a child’s wish comes true, whether it’s to meet a favorite sports star or swim with dolphins in Hawaii, parents and volunteers see the child change from within. An overwhelming majority (89 percent) of doctors and nurses who treat wish kids believe the wish experience can influence their young patients’ physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
Furthermore, a 2011 Wish Impact Study found wish parents, health professionals, and volunteers believe a wish empowers the children to fight harder against their illnesses. 

Hope has been largely undervalued and underappreciated, according to cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, the Scientific Director at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. 

“Hope is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system,” Kaufman says. “Under this conceptualization of hope, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way round. Those lacking hope, on the other hand, feel a lack of control over their environment. They don’t believe in their capacity to obtain the kind of future they want. They have no hope.” 

Hope is the prevailing hero that ushers patients and parents alike through the ever-changing landscape from diagnosis to treatment. In 1991, psychologist Charles R. Snyder and his colleagues defined a new concept in their field called Hope Theory. According to their findings, hope is constructed of both agency and pathways, which means a person who has hope develops the will and determination to reach that goal and is open to trying different strategies in order to attain it. In the case of wish children battling illness, hope gives them more of what they need to achieve the best possible treatment outcome. 

When Snyder and his team devised a way of measuring hope, known as The Hope Scale, it gave psychologists the ability to quantify a person’s level of hope. Using the scale, researchers examined the impact of hope on college academic achievement and published their findings in the Journal of Educational Psychology. Over the course of six years, researchers measured hope and compared it to their GPA and ACT exam scores. Regardless of their GPA, the higher a student’s feeling of hope, the more likely they were to have graduated and achieved better grades. 

 “A wealth of research over the past few decades shows loud and clear that it’s the psychological vehicles that really get you there,” Kaufman explains. “Cutting-edge science shows that hope - at least as defined by psychologists - matters a lot. Science is on the side of hope.”

The moments a nurse, social worker, doctor, or parent presents the possibility of a wish to children are the moments their worlds open up. The doctor appointments, debilitating symptoms, and inescapable diagnoses may have left them with feelings of hopelessness beyond what their parents or caregivers could ever renew. Being able to choose their one true wish not only gives them back a bit of power over their own lives, but also instills optimism in those around them. 

The ability of a wish to improve a person’s perspective on life extends to volunteers. Make-A-Wish has more than 28,000 active volunteers in the United States alone. Overall, 95 percent of community volunteers reported an increased sense of compassion, while another 84 percent felt greater faith in humanity. They also report feeling an increased desire to help others and optimism about the future. 

*Since 1980, Make-A-Wish has collectively granted wishes to over a quarter of a million children with life-threatening medical conditions around the world, and that number is steadily growing.  Children feel stronger, more energetic, and more willing and able to battle their own life-threatening medical conditions. Oftentimes, the wish alone marks a turning point in their fight. 

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