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Reasons to Hope

Wait for It: Seeds of Hope Grow Patience with Gratitude

Last week we talked about planting seeds of hope, literal seeds in the ground to grow something green for spring. My local metro park was giving away trees on Earth Day so I woke up early to get in line and drove away with two tiny saplings, one no more than a twig and the other sprouting three miniature maple leaves. I planted them in the back yard and every day since then I’ve been staring out the window at my tiny trees, wondering if they have even half a chance of setting down roots to grow to their full potential — 80 foot towers of glorious foliage, filtering the air, cooling the ground, and casting beautiful dappled light for hundreds of years to come. 

Whatever they become, it’s gonna take time. A long time. And no amount of worrying about them — whether I gave them exactly what they needed to grow fast and strong, or if their roots will get crowded out by the other trees, or just how long I’m gonna have to wait to see any sign of hope — none of that will make them grow. I received the trees with gratitude. I planted them with hope. And now as I learn to wait, my patience will grow along with them. 

Patience does not come easily for me, but it’s easier these days. And maybe that’s because we’re writing the Book of Hope together. A recent study directed by Northeastern University psychology professor David DeSteno shows that gratitude actually helps us become more patient. “[When] you cultivate gratitude in your life, it’s like a self-control buffer. It helps you more frequently be ready to resist temptation and do the right thing, whatever that right thing may be,” DeSteno explains. 

The study involved 105 people individually completing a computer task rigged to fail just before they were about to finish. The experimenter would ask them to start over from the beginning at which point an actor would intervene and try to help, eventually bringing the computer back online just in time to save what was lost so the person could continue where they left off. Not surprisingly, the majority of participants reported feeling gratitude toward the person who helped them. Researchers then monitored participants’ gratitude for the next three weeks. Turns out those who felt the most gratitude toward the helper in the experiment were more likely to experience gratitude throughout the following weeks.  

After the three week period, the same participants were offered cash either right on the spot, or if they’d agree to wait, promised a higher amount later on. The people who experienced the most gratitude were more likely to wait for a better reward. Thus gratitude fosters patience and self-control, both fruits of the spirit. 

Another, less scientific, example of this is one of my favorite children’s stories, “The Garden,” from the book Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel. You may know the story, frog and toad both end up with gardens in the end, but how they go about it is very different. Frog, more patiently, has been sowing seeds for a long time and is now reaping the benefits of his labor. Toad sees his friend’s bounty and sets out to grow his own, with seeds Frog generously bestows upon him, and then proceeds to have a complete meltdown when they don’t grow overnight. Frog advises him to stop shouting or he’ll scare his seeds, so Toad determines he’ll coax his fearful seeds into coming up by singing them songs, reading poetry, and playing the fiddle all night long. Nothing happens. Overcome by exhaustion (and frustration), he falls asleep only to wake with a field full of hopeful green sprouts. 

Toad didn’t need to do anything but wait. He could have saved so much time and energy. He could have grown his patience like Frog did, right there along with those “fearful seeds.” 

What is it you are waiting for today? How can we let our gratitude strengthen our resolve, let our fears sleep in the earth till they sprout forth into courage, yielding patience, proving hope to be not at all lost, but rather rooted in fertile soil, giving us shade and a place to rest. 

Writing the Book of Hope 

We’ve been writing the Book of Hope together for eighteen weeks now, but it’s never too late to join us! Here’s all you need to get started.

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