We are entering the holiday trifecta: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. You may be surprised to learn many experience greater anxiety and depression during the holidays. Harvard Health Publishing (HHP) recently made this profound observation: “Research (and common sense) suggests that one aspect of the Thanksgiving season can actually lift the spirits, and it's built right into the holiday— expressing gratitude.”
The HHP report observed grateful people are happier, healthier and better able to navigate life’s challenges. Being thankful helps us focus on our blessings instead of obsessing on our frustrations.
One leading researcher in the study of gratitude, psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman, of the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of several positive habits on 411 people. Each person was asked to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone. The results of this exercise demonstrated that grateful people are happier. In fact, the impact of this action was more profound than any of the other positive habits studied and the increase in happiness was measurable for a full month.
Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that managers who say “thank you” to their employees often find they are much more productive. The Harvard report observed, “Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack.” This is key, because an attitude of gratitude is significant in predicting a person’s positive emotional outlook.
Another report, by Forbes on November 23, 2014, observed that gratitude: strengthens relationships, improves physical and psychological health, increases empathy while reducing aggression, and improves both self-esteem and sleep.
If that is not enough, a 2006 study in Behavior Research and Therapy shows Vietnam War Veterans who maintained a grateful attitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In addition, a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported gratitude was a major contributor in those who were most resilient after 9-11.
Long before any of these studies, the Apostle Paul wrote this to early believers, “…Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8, NLT) Paul’s words remind us to focus on what is good. As we do this we will consistently be more thankful and less cranky.
Allow me to suggest that as you celebrate Thanksgiving this year you make an intentional effort to be grateful. Take a moment to jot a thank-you note to someone who has helped you. Make a list of your blessings. Amidst the traditional feasting and football, pause to express your gratitude to God for your amazing blessings. Not only will God be honored, but according to the experts, you will be happier, healthier and better prepared to live a more meaningful life.