“A ray of hope flitters in the sky, a tiny star lights up way up high.”
“When a child is born” is my favorite Christmas song. There is something about this beautiful song that has brought me comfort (and a few tears at times).
Winter is a tough time for many, especially over the holiday season. There is the stark contrast between the thousand images of happy families gathered around a tree and the homeless I see when driving downtown. Then there are those that are single. Those that are struggling to connect for whatever reason, or who have lost hope.
Being lonely in a crowd
Loneliness is everywhere in senior living communities. Despite being surrounded by people, over half tell us they are lonely. It doesn’t seem to matter how many people are around. If you’re lonely, you’re lonely.
And it isn’t easy to say, I’m lonely. There is something very vulnerable about that statement. Who wants to seen as a lonely person? Who wants to be pitied?
How can one be lonely while surrounded by people? Loneliness is related to a complex combination of loss of meaningful social contacts, loss of a job, health problems, unhealthy lifestyles, predispositions and personality.
I have struggled with feelings of loneliness at times in my life. One of the things that has helped me the most is the practice of writing out a gratitude list in a daily journal. Every time I do it, I feel stronger, more connected, hopeful and just plain better.
OK. I know this sounds hokey. But it works for me. So, when I stumbled upon some new research on gratitude, hope and happiness, I was immediately interested.
Gratitude, hope and happiness
Gratitude is defined as a general tendency to recognize benefits, experience abundance and acknowledge everything with grateful emotion (Jans-Beken, 2018).
According to one recent study, the expression of this emotion not only fosters personal well-being but also the well-being of others (Frinking, Jans-Beken, Janssens, Peeters, & Lataster, 2019). How does this happen? Feelings of gratitude may serve to encourage older adults to reach out to find new friends or strengthen relationships already in existence.
But there’s more. In another study, gratitude was examined as a predictor of hope and happiness (Witvliet, Richie, Root Luna, & Van Tongeren, 2018). In this research, gratitude was defined as appreciation of a gift receive, happiness as enjoyment of present good and hope as the desire for a valued future.
Participants (N = 153) wrote about a past hope that had been fulfilled and a current, meaningful, hoped-for outcome and also completed hope and happiness measures.
But really, can awareness or gratitude of good things already present in life inspire hope? Can gratitude truly predict hope and happiness?
According to their results, feelings of gratitude were a strong predictor of dispositional hope and happiness, beyond forgivingness, patience, and self-control combined. In addition, they found that writing about a past experience of having a hope fulfilled, increased current hope and happiness.
It makes sense to me—there is an inherent logic to it. If something as simple as journaling feelings of gratitude about the past and outcomes hoped for can make an impact, lets spread the word.
Spreading the practice of gratitude
Even better, help someone else who is lonely or feeling hopeless. Why not go find someone in your neighbourhood that seems to be struggling and go for a visit. Invite them for coffee and get to know them a little.
At some point, if it feels comfortable, invite them to join you in the practice of gratitude. Bring them a gift of a blank journal and then set up a time to write together.
It’s hard to feel hopeless when sharing things you feel grateful for with another. It’s easy to be happy when helping others. Hope and happiness are in short supply and a moral boost in the coming winter months would, I’m sure, be welcomed.
Jans-Beken, L. (2018). Appreciating gratitude: New perspectives on the gratitude-mental health connection. (Doctoral dissertation), Open University, Heerlen.
Frinking, E., Jans-Beken, L., Janssens, M., Peeters, S., & Lataster, J. (2019). Gratitude and loneliness in adults over 40 years: Examining the role of psychological flexibility and engaged living. Aging & Mental Health. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2019.1673309
Witvliet, C. V. O., Richie, F. J., Root Luna, L. M., & Van Tongeren, D. R. (2018). Gratitude predicts hope and happiness: A two-study assessment of traits and states. The Journal of Positive Psychology. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2018.1424924