Hope Is Medicine
Photo by National Cancer Institute / Unsplash

Hope Is Medicine

How hope helps

The idea of Make-A-Wish is simple and heartwarming. If you’re not familiar with what they do, they grant wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. The most popular wishes are to go to Disney World or to meet a celebrity.

Here’s something you may not know: these wishes bring medical benefits.

About five years ago, a group of Israeli researchers conducted a randomized control trial studying the health and psychological well-being of sixty-six children, ages 5–12, who were undergoing cancer treatment. About half of the children were granted a wish from Make-A-Wish Israel.

Children who were granted a wish were psychologically and physically healthier than the other children. The researchers noted:

The findings indicated that the children who received the wish-fulfillment intervention had higher levels of hope regarding their future, increased positive emotions and health-related quality of life, and a better psychological profile manifested by lower levels of depression, anxiety, and psychological symptomatology.

This study was just one of a dozen reviewed in a 2018 meta analysis published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. That analysis found that the majority of these studies revealed that wish-type experiences improved the psychological and even physical health of the children.

Even skeptics of the Make-A-Wish model have had to soften their views after another study revealed that the cost of a wish is offset by the money saved from reduced hospital visits.

All of this research emphasizes the hope that a wish provides. It appears to be the anticipation of the wish experience, coupled with the autonomy to choose it, that has the restorative effect.

David Williams, the former CEO of the national Make-A-Wish Foundation in the US has seen the healing effect of hope over and over again. He told me this in an interview last year:

It’s now part of the treatment protocol. Medicine is seeing the value of a wish experience. The wish experience is actually doing something that medicine alone can’t do. We know that we can make ourselves sick with worry and anxiety and all those kinds of things. We know that impacts our health negatively. We just have a harder time believing [this works] when it’s from a positive standpoint.

Is there someone in your life that could use this healing effect? How could you help them find something more to hope for?

Seeing Good at Work

The cost of a wish experience is relatively high in the US (over $10k), and that’s even with a heavy reliance on volunteers. But Make-A-Wish also operates through international affiliates, in countries like Columbia, Malaysia, and Pakistan. Wishes in these countries are usually less expensive.

If you are interested in supporting a wish, and want to get more bang for your donated buck, consider supporting an international Make-A-Wish affiliate.

Promotional Stuff

The quote above with David Williams is part of the upcoming podcast we’re launching soon. I hope you’ll listen and share. If you want to make sure you get notified when it comes out, subscribe to this newsletter. I’ll be announcing the release date and other details here.


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Written by

Aaron Miller

Aaron Miller

Provo, UT