At Thanksgiving, more people focus on turkey and family than on gratitude. But an appreciation of the blessings of our lives can actually enhance our lives.
Regular expressions of gratitude can make us feel more optimistic and empathetic while helping us cope with difficult life transitions, studies have shown. Of all character traits, gratitude is the one that’s most associated with mental health. And it can be deliberately cultivated, regardless of one’s circumstances in life.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others,” wrote Cicero many years ago.
One part of a simple-living lifestyle is a realization that we have everything we need. This feeling can help us get off the treadmill of consumption and career ambition. Gratitude can help us notice what’s right in our lives and can overcome feelings of fear, anger and worry.
I’m grateful to have activities that give my life meaning and to still like spending time with the woman I married 36 years ago. Last year, after I wrote 10 blog posts about modern conveniences I live without, I wrote this one about 10 things I couldn’t live without. It was an expression of gratitude for what’s most important to me.
I can sometimes feel gratitude for the most difficult chapter of my life, being the father of a son with mental handicaps. Betsy expressed this feeling very well in this post, which has been the most widely read of all the 155 we’ve written.
Gratitude was ignored by psychologists until recently. Now there are experiments showing that restaurant patrons leave bigger tips when wait staff write “thank you” on the checks. People who regularly express gratitude are found to have higher levels of control over their environment, personal growth, purpose in life and self-acceptance.
In one experiment, some subjects were asked to think about living people they’re grateful to, while others were asked to write about such people, and others wrote letters to them. A control group was asked to think about a living room. The grateful ones had higher experiences of positive emotions afterwards.
The longest-lasting positive feelings were found in those who keep “gratitude journals” and write down three things a day they’re grateful for.
There are even indications that gratitude can be good for your health by enhancing the immune system and providing a natural high. There’s now evidence that gratitude is good for the heart.
So let’s put the “thanks” back in Thanksgiving. Let’s enjoy the turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, and let’s appreciate the warmth and intimacy of being with family members. But let’s also take some time to acknowledge all the good things in our lives.
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