This is a time of year when the word “gratitude” receives a lot of press, but if we’re honest about the way most of us spend the holiday, Thanksgiving is really all about the turkey, retail sales, and getting together with the family we hardly ever see.
We’re selling gratitude short. It’s not just a “feel good” measure – expressing gratitude actually does make you feel better. It can also help you be healthier and live longer. This Thanksgiving let’s walk through the scientific research and spiritual traditions that highlight gratitude’s importance.
Social scientists and psychologists have conducted research that supports the practice of gratitude. Robert Emmons has made it his professional life path to study the effects of living in gratitude. After interviewing over 1000 people who took part in the study by completing daily gratitude journals and by incorporating daily gratitude practices, Emmons found that there were overwhelming benefits for living in gratitude.
We are healthier overall, and take better care of our bodies
We are happy, joyful
We are more awake and aware of the world around us
Sadness, anger and grief are balanced out with the spectrum of positive emotions
We are more generous and helpful
We are more social and more likely to want to be with others
Feelings of loneliness and isolation dissipate
We are more forgiving
More research shows that gratitude helps everyone to feel genuinely good. “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology dived into why thank you’s feel so good. Hearing the words “thank you” is a boost to self-efficacy or that inner feeling of knowing that what you just did was wonderful and helpful for another person.
Gratitude puts in the present moment and away from dwelling or even worse ruminating for far too long. Gratitude is not just about happiness it is about creating meaning in all of our experiences the lie on the spectrum of good and bad. Reflecting on a tragedy through the lens of gratitude can be healing. “What Good are Positive Emotions in Crises? A Prospective Study of Resilience and Emotions Following the Terrorist Attack on the United States on September 11, 2001” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, February 1, 2003. Researchers showed that resilience or emotional survival after the attacks was aided by a number of positive emotional behaviors which included gratitude.
From a more spiritual perspective, gratitude is the basis of our relationship with others and the divine. There is a line in the poem Buoyancy written by Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet, that echoes the sweetness of gratitude, “To praise the sun is to praise your own eyes.” To be grateful for what you have in your life is to be grateful for you ability to see it, appreciate it, and love it all including yourself.
The Buddha shared these teachings about gratitude, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” Even in the hard times, being thankful can ease suffering. These are just two examples. The spiritual teachings on gratitude have filled the hearts and minds of millions for thousands of years, from many cultures and with many languages.
Living in gratitude
Try to find a way to incorporate gratitude in your everyday. The researchers at the Greater Good Science Center have a few suggestions. But the easiest way may be to think past this Thanksgiving holiday and see gratitude and thankfulness as a part of your life rather than a single day of the year.