Richard Gunderman on ‘the Trebek Effect’ and the Benefits of Well Wishes

Long-time “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek announced in March that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Within days, he offered thanks to “the hundreds of thousands of people who have sent emails, texts, tweets, and cards wishing me well regarded my health.” Then last month, Trebek reported that his cancer was in “near remission,” saying that his doctors “hadn’t seen this kind of positive results in their memory.”

Although the odds remain stacked against Trebek (advanced pancreatic cancer has a 3% 5-year survival rate), his experience raises an intriguing question: What are the benefits of such well wishes?

Greeting card industry statistics amply demonstrate the relevance of the question to most Americans: We buy about 6.5 billion greeting cards a year, and while birthdays constitute the number one occasion, “Get Well” cards figure heavily in the mix.


The most immediately apparent benefits of well wishes accrue to recipients. When we are injured, sick or suffering, knowing that someone else is thinking about us can be a source of comfort. It counteracts one of the worst aspects of suffering – isolation. During periods of convalescence, we often miss school or take time off from work and other social activities, which leaves us feeling alone. Knowing that we are in someone else’s thoughts helps to counteract this.

When such well wishes are accompanied by offers of assistance, they can help to solve everyday challenges. Co-workers might offer to assume work responsibilities so that a colleague can take the time needed to get better. Neighbors might offer to feed a convalescent’s pets, to deliver groceries or to help with household chores or self-care. Relatives might offer to stay with loved ones, or even bring them into their own homes to provide care.

Prayer offers perhaps the most dramatic opportunity to study the health benefits of well wishes. In studies of the efficacy of prayers for others, some studies have shown small health benefits, while others have shown no effect.

As a practicing physician who teaches large numbers of medical students and residents, I believe that sharing well wishes benefits us in all sorts of ways that are not reflected in medical outcomes. For example, reaching out to others can reduce anxiety and fear, and connections formed during difficult times may persist for many years, even a lifetime.

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Source: Christian Headlines