November 23, 2017
When the pilgrims sat down for the first Thanksgiving feast, they thanked both their God and the Native Americans with whom they shared the meal. Expressing thanks may have been as important to their survival as the harvest they were celebrating. Regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack of them), giving thanks provides positive benefits in your life. Harvey B. Simon, M.D., Editor of Harvard Men’s Health Watch, notes, “For many this time of year is tinged with sadness, anxiety, or depression.” I’m pretty sure the pilgrims were anxious about their future that first Thanksgiving Day. Giving thanks may have helped reduce their concerns. Simon observes, “Research (and common sense) suggests that one aspect of the Thanksgiving season can actually lift the spirits, and it’s built right into the holiday — expressing gratitude.” He continues:
“Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. 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. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”
Oprah Winfrey also believes expressing gratitude makes life better. “Be thankful for what you have,” she stated, “you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Those kinds of sentiments caused Colby Itkowitz (@ColbyItkowitz) to ask, “Why shouldn’t every day be Thanksgiving?” It’s a good question and one you should ask yourself. Simon explains, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Melanie Tannenbaum (@melanietbaum), a doctor of social psychology, agrees we should be grateful all year round. “There are actually plenty of reasons why Thanksgiving itself can help maintain and improve those very things for which people are thankful,” she writes, “and why we shouldn’t limit the act of giving thanks to just one day of the year.”
So what are some of the reasons we should have a gratitude attitude all the time? Simon points to the work of Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, whose 10-week study found “those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.” Itkowitz also found Emmons’ and McCullough’s work fascinating. She asked Emmons how he personally expressed gratitude. He responded:
“The best way I practice gratitude is to continually think about those people who have done things for me that I could never do for myself. Who is looking out for me, who has my back, who has made my life easier because of their sacrifices? Who and what do I take for granted? Then gratitude becomes, real, concrete, personal. We all have people like that in our lives. I make a mental list of these, and try to think about ways in which I can give back some of the goodness I have received. Basically, I try to practice being non-self-absorbed. Non-grateful people are self-absorbed. Grateful people are absorbed by the good that others are doing for them. Focus on the other — this is the best gratitude message we can give people.”
Simon also cited the work of Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. When Seligman asked people “to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores.” Simon concludes, “Of course, studies such as this one cannot prove cause and effect. But most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.” Tannenbaum asserts expressing gratitude can also improve personal relationships. “Gratitude can act like a ‘booster shot’ of sorts for romantic relationships,” she writes. “In one recent study, couples that reported feeling gratitude towards their partners for everyday acts of kindness (like picking up their favorite coffee from Starbucks or doing the dishes without being asked) experienced higher levels of relationship quality and satisfaction the next day. This means that expressing thanks and gratitude for the things your partner does is not only good for your partner’s happiness, as the one being thanked — it increases your level of happiness and satisfaction with your relationship as well.” According to Simon, work relationships can also be improved when a little gratitude is shown. He writes, “Managers who remember to say ‘thank you’ to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder.” He goes on to suggest some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis. They are:
- Write a thank-you note. “You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.”
- Thank someone mentally. “No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.”
- Keep a gratitude journal. “Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.”
- Count your blessings. “Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.”
- Pray. “People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.”
- Meditate. “Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as ‘peace’), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).”
H.A. Ironside stated, “We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.” Tannenbaum adds, “In the end, if you’re grateful for your friends and family, tell them so today — but also make sure you let them know about it all year round! It will help your relationships, your well-being, and the world around you.” I think that’s pretty good advice. Happy Thanksgiving from all us at Enterra Solutions®.
 Harvey B. Simon, “Giving thanks can make you happier,” Harvard Men’s Health Watch.
 Jeremy Goldman, “Giving Thanks: 31 Inspiring Quotes About Thankfulness,” Inc., 25 November 2015.
 Colby Itkowitz, “The science behind why you shouldn’t stop giving thanks after Thanksgiving,” The Washington Post, 24 November 2016.
 Melanie Tannenbaum, “The Psychology of Giving Thanks,” Scientific American, 28 November 2013.