#BeBetter Podcast with Michael Kurland

Mindfulness, Gratitude, and Hope Define Purpose with Jennifer Cheavens

Being grateful is simply the right thing to do.

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens is a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University and a clinical psychologist. She teaches positive psychology, which is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens portrait

“People who are hopeful tend to be more grateful. People who are grateful tend to be more hopeful.”

—Jennifer Cheavens

29. Mindfulness, Gratitude, and Hope Define Purpose with Jennifer Cheavens

Key Takeaways

  • Gratitude and hope are interconnected.
  • Giving back creates purpose and goals and allows you to love other people more.
  • Positive emotions broaden our attentional awareness.

Social Links


Dr. Jennifer Cheavens, Ph.D. is a Professor and Director of Clinical Training in the Department of Psychology at The Ohio State University.  She directs the Mood and Personality Studies research group at OSU where she supervises both graduate and undergraduate researchers conducting investigations aimed at characterizing and improving treatment for disorders of emotion dysregulation, including borderline personality disorder and depression. She has also done several research projects examining the construct of hope and how hope is related to mood and psychological well-being. Dr. Cheavens has been recognized for her research (e.g., George Valliant Award for Contributions in Positive Clinical Psychology), teaching (e.g., OSU Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching), and mentorship (e.g., Association for the Advancement of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies Spotlighted Mentor Award).

“When you’re more aware, more mindful, you notice that there are lots of things to be grateful for.”

—Jennifer Cheavens

Podcast Transcription

Hello, I’m Michael Kurland, CEO and Co-Founder of Branded Group. Welcome to the #BeBetter Podcast. To me, our company’s mantra to “Be Better” is more than a tagline; it’s a culture that permeates our organization, propelling our team to Be Better to each other, our customers and our communities as well as to ourselves. Each week on the #BeBetter podcast, I interview leaders who authentically exemplify how they are being better in their professional and personal lives.

Kudos to Bombas who have donated over 10 million pairs of socks, which are the most requested clothing item in homeless shelters. With every purchase of a pair of socks, another pair is donated. Learn more about Bombas at bombas.com

Michael Kurland (00:01):

All right. Welcome to another episode of the BeBetter podcast. I’m your host, Michael Kurland. Welcome today. We have a very special guest joining me, Dr. Jennifer Cheavens, a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University. I’ve always wanted to say that. Dr. Jennifer also studies gratitude and hope and treatment for personality disorders, which is all very great things. So Dr. Jennifer, welcome to the show. Why don’t you tell the audience a little bit more about yourself and what you do?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (00:36):

All right. Well, thank you for having me. First of all, I’m happy to be here today. As you said, I’m a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University. I got my training at the University of Kansas full rock chalk Jayhawk if they’re listening to that and when I was there, I studied with Rick Snyder, who is the person who originated hope theory. So we studied hope and gratitude and forgiveness. Then I went and finished up my training and my first job at Duke University and then came to Ohio State about 14 years ago. So here I run a lab with some grad students and we did these research studies and I teach undergrads. I teach a positive psychology class and I’m clinically trained people so that they can go out and try to help folks who are struggling with depression, personality disorders, and other kinds of things like that.

Michael Kurland (01:29):

That’s awesome. Well, I appreciate you being here and thank you for dedicating your life to this work, because this is very important stuff. So I think one thing you just said, and one thing I’d like to jump into – the hope theory. Why don’t you give a little background on that because I’m not familiar with it and I’m sure some of the audience probably isn’t either.

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (01:50):

So when we started studying hope back in the nineties, a long time ago now for your younger listeners, but when we started I know one of the things that my mentor asked, he just started to go ask people like, what do you hope for in your life? What do you hope for? And what he found is that when people started talking about things they hope for, they started talking about goals and they started talking about I want this to happen for me. Then they started talking about how that might happen. So when we think of hope, we think of goals, what you want in your life and then we call them pathways. How do you get to the things you want in your life, from where you are? Then the last piece of hope theory is agency, which is, do you believe that you can successfully use those pathways?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (02:43):

So one of the examples I use with my students is like, if I said, I want to have a date for Wednesday night, that’s my goal. Then if I thought, what are all the ways I might be able to get that? And I start thinking, I could ask someone to set me up. I could go on dating apps. I could stand outside with a sandwich board saying, please go out with me. Those are my pathways and then the degree to which I believe I could use those and the way they would work would be my agency. So when you think of someone’s hope, it’s someone who is hopeful as someone who thinks about goals and they think about how to get to their goals. They think that they can do that. They have like some confidence that they can use those pathways.

Michael Kurland (03:22):

Great. So hope synonymous with gratitude. So you know, this season is about gratitude. So let’s talk about how this hope theory and gratitude are kind of connected. Like what have you found that you you’ve done in your years of studying with gratitude and hope?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (03:41):

Well, hope and graduate are related. So people who are hopeful tend to be more grateful. People who are grateful tend to be more hopeful. One of the things that I think really links gratitude and hope together is that I think gratitude helps situate you in your context like when you’re grateful, you’re recognizing that there are things in your life that you have that you might not even necessarily deserve. And there are things that have, there are people often that have given you those things or that have given you access to those things. And I think that gratitude thinking about how other people have helped, you can help think about how to get to your own goals and how you can have goals of helping other people. So they get connected in terms of like this community piece.

Michael Kurland (04:26):

Great. So let’s talk about for you, do you personally practice gratitude and if so, how do you practice gratitude? What’s your gratitude practice?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (04:40):

I do practice gratitude. I probably not as much as I should. Right. We could all probably be doing it a little bit more, but there’s things I do. One is that I also practice mindfulness and in that I try to remain open things to be grateful for. So I go throughout my day looking for things at the end of the day that I’m going to be able to say that was something good. That happened. That was something that I feel grateful for, that I appreciate and so it opens me in my day to actually work towards being grateful. Right. So you can imagine sometimes like you started the day poorly, like your coffee is bad or there’s a long line at Starbucks or whatever that is. And so you can start in a bad mood. If you look for throughout the day, like what good things are happening today, then it kind of gives your attention a break from all the negative things in our lives and turns it towards the positive things. I also really try to write letters to people expressing gratitude as often as I can.

Michael Kurland (05:43):

I think that’s a great one. That’s what my Dad used to do. He used to write a lot of handwritten letters, never gotten a text or email, so I’ve adopted that practice in and of recently is just to write personal letters because I think, you know, being a child of the eighties and nineties,  getting mail back then was so exciting. So I like to drop a little handwritten note, still put a stamp on it and send it out there. I think there’s nothing more exciting when you get aside from the bills that come in the mail and the junk mail, to actually get something with a pen written on it. It’s pretty cool. You mentioned something that I want to touch on. You said you also practice mindfulness. So let’s talk about the distinction in your mind between gratitude and mindfulness for the audience.

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (06:29):

So in my mind, mindfulness is the work of being in the present moment with whatever is in the present moment. Sometimes those are good things that I like to be with and sometimes those are things that may be a little more versus that I don’t love being with, but it is allowing the present moment to be whatever it is without necessarily trying to change it. It’s giving yourself a little distance between your thoughts and feelings and urges and sensations and your reactions to those things. So when I was younger, I was a much more like some might call it impulsive. I might call it spontaneous person. And so mindfulness builds a beat in there, I think, and helps just be aware of the present moment. I think when you’re more aware, you notice that there are lots of things to be grateful for.

Michael Kurland (07:20):

Very, very good, very good information. Now I agree. I am also spontaneous, impulsive, and I’ve just probably in the last year have really focused on my mindfulness. I think of all people, the person that’s most grateful for that would be my business partner because now he doesn’t get the 3:00 AM texts that I woke up and something crazy happened. I just shot him a text and called them because I had to tell him right then and there. I think about it and I’m like, Oh, now I can tell him next time I see him in person. So I think Jon would appreciate that. So let’s talk about this though. You said you’re a professor of psychology, you study gratitude, you study hope and you study the treatment of personality disorders. So how are these all related? What have you found in all of your time doing this, between the three, if anything?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (08:14):

Well, one of the things that I really found in my treatment research, so whether that’s personality disorders or depression, is, are there ways to capitalize on people’s strengths? When I was in graduate school, I developed an intervention to increase hope for people. So all people try to make people more hopeful and then through making them more hopeful, find if that made them less depressed, less anxious, those kinds of things.

Michael Kurland (08:42):

Oh, so sorry to cut you off, but what did you find?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (08:47):

You can increase hope so you can teach people the skills of hopeful people. Which was really nice because I spent a lot of time thinking, well, is that just too bad for everyone who’s not hopeful. It’s great for the people who are so you can increase hope. And when you increase hope you do decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. But the more I got to think about it, the more I thought, there’s no reason that everyone should have the same skills and the same strengths. And so are there ways that we can think about our therapies, where we build therapies to capitalize on people’s individual strengths? The way most treatments work is we look to people’s deficits, right? You go to a therapist or someone and they say, gosh, you were really struggling to do X, Y, or Z.

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (09:32):

We’re going to teach you how to do X, Y, or Z better and be less depressed or less anxious, or whatever that is, or have fewer symptoms of personality disorders. So I’ve been thinking a lot about when someone goes to therapy, can you identify what they do well and say, can we capitalize that on that so that your life is structured in a way that you feel less depressed, anxious, have fewer symptoms of personality disorders using the things that work for you instead of trying to remedy the things that don’t work for you?

Michael Kurland (10:02):

Well, that’s awesome. I think if you’re more hopeful, you’re probably less depressed, right? It’s a no brainer, but I’m glad that you put those two and two together. I’m glad that the research shows that’s true. I know at one point in my life, I was going through some tough things, a divorce, getting laid off from a job. I started going to therapy at that point in time and she really focused on my lack of love for myself. I know that was, I always put everyone else first. I think she gave me hope with the thought that, you got to put yourself first and it’s okay. I started being able to love myself more and by doing so, I would never say I was depressed, but I was definitely ups. You know, I was sad, right. At least at that part of my life. I was able to focus on self-love, self-care. I don’t know if this, if that’s really related to hope, but I think maybe she focused on the strength that I didn’t even know I had inside of me too. So I digress.

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (11:07):

No, I think that’s really important. And one of the ways to conceptualize that is you had a goal to get working again and have other relationships and do those things, and she gave you a pathway, right? Like if you take care of yourself and you love yourself and that pathway will get you towards those goals that you have in your life, which I think is what hope looks like.

Michael Kurland (11:27):

I think that that’s great, great information.  I always told myself, I can’t love somebody or have someone love me until I love myself. Right. But that’s a whole other show. So let’s talk about this. You know that we’re talking about gratitude and talking about hope. So you just said you practice gratitude. One thing I want to ask you about your practice and I’ve found throughout this season is the one main key note that everyone keeps hitting on is consistency. Would you say that that is probably high on your list of things when you’re practicing gratitude, to be consistent with whatever you’re doing?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (12:07):

Yes. I mean all of these skills, that’s exactly what they are. They’re skills. You know, we often think of gratitude is at the level, like that’s a grateful person or behavioral level, like we’re expressing gratitude, but there’s also just the skill of kind of like working on that and building that up.

Michael Kurland (12:26):

So speaking of that, so why is it important for you, for me, for everyone to show gratitude? What would have you found?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (12:34):

I mean, at the most basic level, I think it’s important because it’s the right thing to do, right? Like we all are benefiting from other people and we’re benefiting in ways that many of us just skate over. I think particularly often our environments ask us to really self-advocate in a way that expressing gratitude almost feels like you are somehow undermining yourself. Right. But really we’re all benefiting from other people all the time and so it’s the right thing to do to, both for other people, but also for yourself to kind of like check yourself a little bit sometimes when we’re not expressing gratitude, we are taking more credit for things than we actually have earned. But the other reason is I think it really helps is with our relationships. So when our relationships are better, we’re happier. We’re also more productive at work. I don’t just mean our romantic relationships, like our relationships with people we work with, with our kids, with our partners, with our friends, our families. So I think expressing gratitude and as I said before, situating yourself in the context of what’s going on around you makes you a better person in those relationships.

Michael Kurland (13:44):

I think it makes you human. Right. I think at the end of the day, if you can’t express gratitude, then, like you said, you’re taking too much credit. You’re maybe taking your viewpoint is a little selfish and if you’re able to express that gratitude, then it just humanizes you and makes you more relatable. That’s what I feel. And you mentioned something earlier, too. You spoke about forgiveness. So I have found in my life that forgiveness and gratitude are almost synonymous and sometimes you forgive for yourself, right? Because you hold grudges. Personally, I’ve held grudges in the past and it wasn’t until I forgave that person, even if I didn’t even tell them, but in my head, I forgave them that I was able to move on and start living my life. And I’m grateful for forgiveness. So talk to me about your thoughts on forgiveness and gratitude and how they’re related.

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (14:43):

I mean, I love what you said, because when I think about forgiveness, I really use it as something for yourself. I think oftentimes when we forgive people, we don’t even have people know that they have been forgiven by us. I am also a master grudge holder and exactly. One of the sayings that I love is that not forgiving someone is basically like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. Right? Like you’re the one holding on to all of those hard feelings and they can be going about their life without even noticing that you’re grudge holding. So it’s really, forgiveness is really something that frees us from those kinds of like psychological connections to the past. So I think gratitude being grateful for forgiveness, also being grateful for times we’ve been forgiven, right? Most of us have done things at someone has enough to forgive us for, and I think that’s something that helps me feel a little more forgiving is when I’m grateful that other people extended that to me.

Michael Kurland (15:51):

I totally agree. I think you said expert grudge holder. That is hilarious. But from my point of view, I have a saying, and it’s anger only affects you, right? So if you want to hold a grudge like you said, you can forgive someone and they don’t even have to know it. The fact of the matter is you can be angry at someone and they’ll never, they may never know. If you’re holding that grudge inside and you’re angry, who is that affecting? Like you said, you drink poison, expect someone else to die. That anger is the poison and you think that that anger is going to be like somehow projected out of you into someone else and they’re going to feel some sort of remorse when they don’t even know. Right. So I loved everything you just said right there. I think that anger is poison to your vibe, to your insights. I mean, I’m sure there’s definitely studies on stress and how it affects you, your health. Right. So holding on to grudges and anger is going to negatively affect your health. So all that being said, work on the forgiveness and be grateful for the ability to forgive instead of holding that grudge. Right. Great. So let’s get back to the gratitude now. How do you encourage your team and family members to practice gratitude?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (17:09):

Well, what I do is I teach a class and right now we’re online, which is tough, right? So there’s 120 students in there and one of the things I do in my classes, in my meetings with my team, my research team and other places is I just start almost every meeting with what’s good. Like what has happened? Tell me something good that’s happened and it allows other people to express their gratitude just for, because it really, if you think of gratitude as appreciation for good things, it gives them a public forum to express gratitude in that way and it also gives other people on the team opportunities to celebrate successes and things for other people. So that’s the main way that I try to encourage my team and my students to express that appreciation.

Michael Kurland (17:58):

I like it. I think it makes total sense. You know, I’m a humble guy and when I have wins, I don’t always celebrate them because I don’t want to come across as braggadocios or things of that nature. So a lot of times I have wins and I just keep them inside. But if I say them out loud and then, we can celebrate them. But I think  gratitude in a community setting is great. So what are you grateful for today? Let’s talk about that.

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (18:27):

Oh, today I’m grateful to get to meet and talk with you about gratitude. I think that that’s an important thing to do. So I appreciate that. I’m grateful for the students. I mean, this has been such a hard year on people and these students are really suffering and separated from the experience that they wish to be having in college and they’re still showing up and participating. I’m really grateful for that. I was grateful that my dog threw up before we were meeting not while we were meeting.

Michael Kurland (18:57):

That is a victim or a victor mentality and you looked at it from the glass half full, the dog threw up before.

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (19:07):

And she has to clean it up. I’m always grateful for the people in my life. I mean, I am just so lucky to be surrounded by amazing people from family, friends, coworkers, students, and that is a constant source of gratitude and awe at my good fortune in that way.

Michael Kurland (19:27):

Well, those are all great things. I have to echo the sentiments. I’m grateful for you coming on the show and having this podcast as an outlet, a creative outlet, especially during COVID. This has been. I’ve done almost 30 episodes now, or maybe even more at this point and I’ve gotten to meet a bunch of people that I would, I mean, me and you would have never met without this podcast. So I’m grateful for that and I think you have a lot of good insight and I’m glad the audience is getting a chance to hear that. So off the cuff a little bit. So tell me this. Why is giving back important? We’ve been starting to talk and dive into giving back, and it’s also synonymous with gratitude. Why is that important? How do you feel about giving back and volunteerism and things of that nature?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (20:18):

I think it’s hugely important. I think that giving back, like we’re all part of a number of communities, right? Those communities intersect in various ways and they’re different from each other in various ways, but being part of a community, we get so much from that. Then we also have some responsibility to that. So making your community, whether that’s where you live or your family, or your work community, making that a better place by giving what you can and really thinking through what are your strengths, what can you give in a way that doesn’t deplete you, but actually makes your life better by contributing? I think is the thing, right? Like what are we doing if we’re not figuring out a way to make the places we inhabit better.

Michael Kurland (21:11):

Again, I’ll go back to what I said before. I think it makes you human, right. Have you ever read the book Tribe by Sebastian I’m going to mess up his last name. It’s like Junger. It’s Junger with a soft J or something like that, but Junger and he basically says we are as a species meant to be in groups of 120 or less and we thrive when we’re in these groups and we serve each other in these groups and that’s what humans, we’re kind of like a pack animal. So when we get too big, after 120, then it loses its luster. When we’re smaller, it’s good, but everyone plays their role. The book is great. It’s short. I think I’ve talked about it before, but I highly recommend you reading it in audience, you as well, but it really talks about, your community and what you bring and what you give and how, as a community, you live and breathe together.

Michael Kurland (22:16):

Even when bad times happened, like they studied a World War II and a bunch of English that had hid in the bomb shelters when London was getting bombed. There was like 120 people, and they lived in this bomb shelter for, I don’t know like weeks or whatever it was and they said that everyone had such a romanticized memory of the fact that they all lived together in harmony while their city was getting destroyed by bombs. I’m sure as a psychologist, you can relate to that. So anyway, anyway, I digress, but I do think giving back is super important I think to be a little bit of a servant to your community. And that’s why we’re so big on in a Branded Group is with giving back to Habitat or the food pantries or the beach cleanups. You know, we want to make sure that we’re building better humanitarians,

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (23:09):

Right and just to tag tack onto that a little bit, the more selfish reason for giving back is that it makes you feel like a good person when you give back. So it creates purpose and goals and everything for you, if that’s what motivates you and it also allows you to love other people more, right? You like them more than when you are separated from them. So there are also benefits directly to the person I think, from being kind and giving back.

Michael Kurland (23:40):

Absolutely. I mean, I’ve said it on a couple of the other shows you get kind of like a high, and we had this happiness expert on a couple weeks ago Jillian Mandich and she said it’s like the same thing is released in your brain when you give back as similar to when you go on a jog. So I guess there’s something to that. So selfishly, like you said, you get to feel good. Well, that’s great. So let me ask you this question and we’ve kind of talked about it in a roundabout way, but I’m just going to directly hit you with it. So how has gratitude related to other concepts such as hope, purpose and relationship satisfaction? Let’s hit that one.

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (24:24):

I mean, we’ve talked indirectly, but I think the direct way that these things are linked is I’m going to get a little like science geeky on you. There’s a theory called the broaden and build theory, which you may already know about. And why do we have positive emotions? What are the functions of positive emotions? The theory is that we have positive emotions because it broadens our attentional awareness. Like when we have negative emotion, it narrows our attention awareness, right? If you’re a threat to me, I have to really focus on the threat, but when I’m feeling proud or happy or in love, it broadens things. So I can see more in my environment. And then when I’m more broadened, I can build these resources and so gratitude and hope and purpose are all resources that we build when we are feeling good and cognitively flexible and open to things. Then later those things set us up to be resilient in our lives because we have more hope. We have more gratitude when you get this upward spiral where the more resources you have, like that emotions you feel and things get better over time.

Michael Kurland (25:31):

I love that. I love what you just said because it’s very simplistic, but it makes so much sense. When you’re not focused on the threat or the grudge or the anger, and you’re walking and you’re able to intake the butterfly coming down, or the sun shining, or the waves crashing on the beach or whatever that may be, that you can actually enjoy that and be grateful for that. So I love that. What was that theory called again?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (26:01):

It’s called broaden and build and to give credit where credit’s due. That is Barbara Fredrickson’s theory.

Michael Kurland (26:06):

Okay. I love it. I’m going to use that in the future. Well, Dr. Jennifer, this has been a great conversation. I’ve enjoyed all of our time so far. I have one last question that I asked all of my guests. What do you consider yourself to be an expert at? And what advice do you have for the audience to become an expert at something?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (26:28):

Gosh is that just open or is that outside of professional?

Michael Kurland (26:32):

Whatever you like. You can say anything except for don’t say being a psychologist. Because then that’s not fair.

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (26:44):

I think one of the things I’m an expert at is connecting people to each other. I grew up as a military brat, so my Dad was a career Air Force guy and I moved around a lot and probably just out of my own need for survival, just developed this skill of connecting people. I think other people can be an expert in that by just constantly thinking when you’re talking to somebody like, who else would this person be? Who would it be great for this person to meet? And how can I connect people so that you get this kind of pockets of synergy all over the place?

Michael Kurland (27:17):

Oh, I love it. That’s great. I feel similar and I think that’s something that they say we have sixth sense, right? I think that that’s like a sixth sense kind of thing. So I agree. Well, Dr. Jennifer, this has been great having you on the show. Thank you so much for coming on. If the audience wants to get ahold of you, how can they do so?

Dr. Jennifer Cheavens (27:38):

I have a webpage through OSU. So if they put in Cheavens, which is spelled just like heavens with a C in front of it and Ohio State, they will be taken directly to my webpage and they can email me there.

Michael Kurland (27:50):

Well, great. Well, Dr. Jennifer, again, thank you so much for coming on. Thanks for talking about hope and audience until next time.

I’d like to take a minute to thank you, our valued listeners. My intention is for this podcast to inspire you, in some way, to be better.  Change starts from within and radiates outward. Therefore, start with being better to yourself and only then will you recognize how to be better others and your community. Thank you for joining us today! If you want to learn more about Branded Group, then visit us at www.branded-group.com. From our website you can follow us on social media. Also, always feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. Until next time, Be Better.

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