Focusing on the 'Thanks' in Thanksgiving

November 20, 2015 Michelle T. Toshima

As Thanksgiving approaches, it is a good time to focus on giving thanks. I have fond memories of my children producing Thanksgiving art projects that adorned our walls for weeks. One of my favorite projects was the construction paper turkeys with five colorful tail feathers, each one listing something that my kids were grateful for. Gratitude, however, is more than just a cute art project at Thanksgiving or a blessing before we over-indulge in turkey or tofu.

Research shows that practicing gratitude can result in a number of benefits, including improved physical and psychological health. People who practice gratitude take better care of themselves, engage in more protective health behaviors like exercise and eating healthy, and get regular checkups.

Dr. Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael McCullough at the University of Miami have done a lot of research on gratitude. In one study, they divided participants into three groups and asked each to write a few sentences every week in a notebook:

• Group 1: Write down things they were grateful for.
• Group 2: Write down things that irritated or displeased them.
• Group 3: Write down events that had affected them.

After 10 weeks, participants in Group 1 were more optimistic, felt better about their lives, exercised more and had fewer medical visits. Gratitude is associated with greater happiness, better health, stronger relationships and greater resilience to deal with adversity.

So what is involved in practicing gratitude? It is simply recognizing and appreciating the tangible and intangible things in our lives. Gratitude is about focusing on what you have rather than what you don’t have. Practicing gratitude is an overlooked and underused coping tool. It doesn’t cost any money and it doesn’t take a lot of time, but the benefits can be huge.

So this holiday season, remember to say “thank you,” reflect on all of the things you are grateful for, write a letter to someone in your past who you wish to thank after all these years and keep a daily gratitude journal.

On Thanksgiving and throughout the year, celebrate the “Attitude of Gratitude.”

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