Amidst the hustle and bustle of shopping, party planning and decorating that ushers in the holiday season, many people’s innermost thoughts turn to three things: family, food and gratitude.
FOR CENTURIES, CULTURES AND RELIGIONS ACROSS THE GLOBE have commemorated bountiful harvests and other forms of plenty by setting time aside to express gratitude. The United States traces its Thanksgiving holiday to the pilgrims living in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621. After enduring hardships associated with starting over in a new land, they celebrated the rewards of a rich harvest with help from nearby Native American tribes. Rooted in the tradition of celebrating a plentiful harvest, Thanksgiving today typically involves spending time with family or other loved ones while feasting, playing football or waiting in line for the mall to open at midnight. But even at this busy time of year, it’s important to remember the true reason for the season: giving thanks.
Gratitude: The Basics
While most Americans don’t directly celebrate a harvest on Thanksgiving Day (less than one percent of the U.S. population claims farming as an occupation today), they still find plenty to be thankful for. Loving family members and friends are blessings that unite people from all walks of life. Thanksgiving Day offers a chance to focus on the small things that bring happiness, things as simple as the service of a friend or the beauty of the environment. The close of a busy year is a great time to reflect on things taken for granted and express gratitude for them. And ultimately, that’s what really gives Thanksgiving its meaning.
What’s Good About Gratitude?
If deep-rooted cultural traditions make you wonder, “What’s the big deal about gratitude?” you may be missing out on actual benefits to your health. Studies show that spending time consciously thinking about what you’re grateful for can increase overall life satisfaction, decrease stress and promote better sleep.
A study conducted by two psychologists, Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami and Robert A. Emmons of the University of California-Davis, found that people “reported considerably more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more optimism about the upcoming week, and felt more connected with others” when they wrote down things they were grateful for just once during the week. Compared to those who didn’t keep such a record, this group also reported getting more sleep and spending more time working out. Overall, they were happier and healthier than those who didn’t focus on being grateful.
3 Ways To Express Gratitude
People often describe themselves as “having gratitude,” but ultimately the Thanksgiving season (and the virtue itself) is more about sharing. The following are a few suggestions for passing on an attitude of gratitude:
- PAY A COMPLIMENT: The next time someone does something for you, do more than think to yourself, “That was nice.” Often, expressing your gratitude can be as simple as thanking the person and complimenting them on their thoughtfulness.
- WRITE A NOTE: Write down the names of individuals who have helped you in some way and what they did for you. Then, when you have spare time, write a simple thank you note mentioning what they did for you and how it made a difference.
- GIVE A GIFT: Depending on the act of kindness, you might decide to return the favor with a gift. Flowers, homemade goodies, gift cards or other small presents are usually an appropriate way to show how much that person’s kindness meant to you.