“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you, that would suffice.”    -Meister Eckhart

When Thanksgiving arrives each year,  just as the number of turkeys, stuffing mixes, green beans, and cranberries seem to grow exponentially, so do the conversations about gratitude. It is perhaps why it is one of everyone’s favorite holidays. The lucky ones among us feast together on wonderful food, surrounded by friends and family, and say thanks for life, for health, and for one another. No wonder we usually feel so happy!

Although Thanksgiving as a national holiday is a specifically American and Canadian tradition, it is actually celebrated all over the globe by many different names and types of rituals. Thanksgiving is the North American version of ancient harvest celebrations that have taken place for thousands of years wherever crops were reaped and sowed. Think of the Festival of the Harvest Moon in China or the yam festival in Ghana, Africa, or the Chu Suk in Korea. Expressing thanks is a universal urge and a human strength that can be cultivated, not just at Thanksgiving but on any day.

“When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”   -Tecumseh, Shawnee leader

The world’s religious teachers, ancient philosophers, and indigenous people have spoken about the importance of gratitude for over a thousand years, seeing it as an important virtue to be cultivated and practiced. In religious traditions, the saying of grace before each meal is a way of thanking God for the food on your table. Most parents teach their children the “magic words” of saying “please” and “thank you”. We have always known intuitively that grateful people seem to be happier with their lives and also more able to confront life’s challenges.

But scientists were latecomers to this awareness. Only in the past ten years have researchers started to take a hard look at exactly how and why gratitude leads to increased health and happiness. Now, a growing body of research is emerging that verifies not only this but much more. Psychologist Robert Emmons from the University of California at Davis is one of the prominent researchers on gratitude, now conducting highly focused, cutting-edge studies on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its consequences. Many other researchers are following suit. They have found that gratitude helps boost the immune system and is in itself a form of stress reduction. We are also learning that adversity can, paradoxically, bring an increase in thankfulness. People who have faced losses early in life often have higher levels of optimism, suggesting that adversity can add to personal growth over time.

If you want to be inspired, take ten minutes when you can stop, breathe, and open your heart to the exquisite beauty of nature. Louie Schwartzberg has been doing time-lapse photography of flowers for thirty years. In a Ted talk, Nature, Beauty, Gratitude, his stunning images are accompanied by powerful words from Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast on being grateful for every day.

 


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    Last reviewed: 19 Nov 2012

APA Reference
Manchester MacMannis, D. (2012). Practice Gratitude: A Thanksgiving Reminder. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/parenting-tips/2012/11/practice-gratitude-a-thanksgiving-reminder/

 

How's Your Family Really Doing?
Don MacMannis, Ph.D. & Debra Machester MacMannis, MSW are the author of How's Your Family Really Doing?.

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