The Thanksgiving Ingredient

In the midst of the ads for Black Friday, the Christmas lights and the gift exchanges lies one of my favorite holidays- a time where we are reminded of the importance of food, family and most of all gratitude.

Thanksgiving has this unique ability to create traffic backups, flight delays and a high level of stress associated with cooking and entertaining. Yet, when Thursday rolls around none of that matters. In that exact moment you are grateful- you are grateful that your mother made your favorite green bean casserole, that your brother (an enlisted marine) was able to be sitting next to you and that you are surrounded by people cultivating and expressing an attitude of gratitude.

Why is it that too often Thanksgiving is the only time we stop to recognize the importance of being grateful? Emmons and McCullough, prominent researchers in the field, have done extensive studies on the physiological and physical benefits of practicing gratitude. In their research, they note that individuals who practice gratitude and weave it into their daily life actually have a health edge on their fellow counterparts.
The concept is simple-making gratitude part of your daily practice has numerous health benefits. Emmons and McCullough suggest that individuals who practice regular gratitude reap the following benefits:

  •  a stronger immune system
  •  higher motivation to take care of themselves physically
  •  better protective health behaviors and maintenance i.e going to the doctor regularly
  • better coping strategies in regards to stress and daily challenges
  •  feel happier and more optimistic
  •  maintain a brighter view of the future

This means that without even having to set foot in a gym or choose between a salad and a hamburger, the act of practicing gratitude can directly influence physical and mental health. It is one of the easiest ways to strengthen your immune system, boost your well-being, increase your feelings of connectedness and build resilience against current and future negative emotions. 

If all this good comes from expressing gratitude why don’t more people do it? It could be that the words “thank you” have become so commonplace that they have become  too simple, too obvious, and  too unworthy of serious attention. It could be that we are just comparing everything we have to everything we don’t have. Whatever the reason, this Thanksgiving I challenge you to turn your attention to the meaning of the words “thank you” , to embrace the feelings of joy and thankfulness and to reframe your state of mind to one of positivity and optimism. Here are some strategies to help get you started:

  •  Keep a gratitude journal and take the time to reflect on the good that happens throughout the day.
  • Vocalize your gratitude and tell the people around you how much you appreciate who they are and what they have done to impact your life.
  •  Grab a gratitude partner. Just like going to the gym is easier with a buddy, sharing gratitude and recognizes positives make it easier if you have some social support.

"Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some". —Charles Dickens