*First appeared in Nov. 26, 2014 edition of the Laurel Chronicle newspaper
When you read this column, you’ll likely be prepping for your annual Thanksgiving tradition, whether that means driving to your parent’s house for home-style cooking (like me) or cooking for your family (not like me) or something else unique to your situation.
Whatever your annual Turkey Day habits, the shared focus of this holiday is a reminder to be grateful for our many blessings.
Being thankful, it turns out, doesn’t just benefit others; it boosts your own personal health, too.
In 2011, researchers at Harvard reviewed the mental health benefits of gratitude and offered some advice on how to cultivate a thankful state of mind.
For starters, they examined the root of gratitude, which has its origins in Latin. The Latin word “gratia” means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness, depending on the context, and in some ways, “gratitude encompasses all of these meanings.”
Researchers conclude that “with gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves…[helping] people connect to something larger.”
Harvard’s examination of gratefulness included a reference to several psychological studies. One study required one set of subjects to write about things they were grateful had happened, and another set of subjects to write about things that displeased and/or irritated them. The result? Those who wrote about their gratitude were, on average, more optimistic than their testing counterparts. The happy group also exercised more and had fewer visits to the doctor.
(To be fair to the unhappy group, I too would be grumpy if someone made me spend my days writing about things that irritate me.)
Other studies have been conducted on couples in relationships, finding that couples that display gratitude between partners are generally happier and have more honest, open communication.
Yet another study conducted by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania found that employees felt motivated to work harder after feeling appreciated – that is, after a manager showed gratitude for their efforts.
Studies like these cannot necessarily prove cause and effect, but they do typically support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.
So how do we become more thankful? The Harvard folks advise the following:
Write thank you notes.
Thank someone mentally.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Count your blessings.
That seems fairly simple, doesn’t it?
More important than the researchers at Harvard, though, is a divine directive to be thankful. Consider the numerous times when the Bible tells us to have a spirit of gratitude:
Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known His doings among the peoples! (1 Chronicles 16:8)
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 107:1)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
This Thanksgiving, we can all be thankful there’s no disagreement on what makes us cheerful. Gratitude is, in large part, key to a happy, healthy state of mind.