Besides the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day is the most American of national holidays, a day set aside to celebrate pioneers who – seeking religious freedom – braved a brutal ocean voyage in cramped ships to establish a home in the New World, where a harvest was planted and enjoyed with Native American neighbors.
Driven by faith, they bowed their heads in gratitude to their God – as their sacred text told them to in Psalm 107:1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
As young children we are taught to say “thank you,” along with “please,” as part of a basic lesson in politeness. But as American society’s focus shifts more and more to self-fulfillment – or perhaps just securing the best holiday electronics deal – Thanksgiving with its Pilgrims and construction-paper turkeys may seem a quaint relic of history, more a celebration of outdated values than a meaningful contemporary holiday.
Not so, say modern-day psychologists. Quite the contrary.
Depending on which blog or website you view, there are seven to 31 “scientifically proven” benefits of being a person with a heart full of gratitude.
“Giving thanks can transform your life,” reads one article by author and psychotherapist Amy Morin published in online “Psychology Today” (April 3, 2015).
According to Moran, giving thanks improves self-esteem, increases mental strength, improves sleep, enhances empathy, reduces aggression, improves psychological and physical health and contributes to friendship.
Not only that, but psychologists advocate that people take action to build their gratitude quotient for greater personal happiness.
Psychologist Ryan M. Niemiec says researchers recommend those who want to build gratitude try taking something valued away for a time to increase appreciation of it; focus on a small thing and savor the experience; count three blessings each night; and experience each word when speaking, as when saying “Happy Thanksgiving” to a co-worker – and really meaning it.
Morin recommends sending a thank-you note once a week, keeping a daily journal of things to be grateful for, starting a visual gratitude bulletin board or Facebook page, and creating a gratitude jar, into which family members write notes all year to be pulled out and read next Thanksgiving Day.
She also suggests a daily gratitude ritual, as Gary Horton describes in his Wednesday column “Light a candle of thanks.” He shares his son’s and daughter-in-law’s nightly routine of “thanks and joy” with their children, concluding, “They’re building lives of gratitude and joy from the ground up. So smart!”
So smart to be grateful, just as the Pilgrims were.
It’s been easy this election season to single out examples of negative campaigning and other negativity, to make sweeping negative judgments about large swaths of people, to lash out when things don’t go as we wanted or expected.
Perhaps some gratitude would alter our view.
We truly wish you and yours a gratitude-graced Thanksgiving Day.