Thanksgiving Day is nearly upon us, when we gather around the table to share a meal and give thanks. Our blessings are many, and recent studies indicate that when thankfulness becomes a lifestyle, more than a seasonal attitude, our blessings begin to multiply.
“Positive psychology” research explores the attitudes and behaviors that build us up mentally and physically. Pioneers in the movement have determined that gratitude—an acknowledgement and appreciation for what we have received—is a key factor in promoting our happiness and health. In particular, Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis, Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, and Martin E. P. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania have documented their research findings on the positive effects of gratitude on our bodies, our minds, and our relationships.
Good for the Body: Taking time to recognize and appreciate our blessings has positive physical effects. People who cultivate a thankful attitude reportedly sleep longer and wake up more refreshed. They also tend to take better care of themselves: exercising more, eating healthier, and taking time for regular physical examinations. Gratitude and other positive emotions improve the immune system. One study showed that heart attack survivors who gained a deeper appreciation for life as a result of their heart attack experience were at lower risk for a second heart attack than were others who did not find blessing in the experience.
Good for the Mind: A grateful heart promotes optimism and a general sense that life is good. Studies show that gratitude is inversely related to depression and anxiety; that is, the more we realize how fortunate we are, the less likely we are to feel anxious or depressed. Gratitude also strengthens our ability to cope with stress and daily problems. Grateful people tend to relish the present moment and look to the future with hope and enthusiasm. One researcher concluded that the ability to find blessing in adversity is an indicator of emotional maturity.
Good for Relationships: Gratitude enhances social relationships by increasing empathy. A grateful person feels connected with other people and is more inclined to be generous, kind, and patient. Grateful people are reportedly more resilient to criticism and less likely to respond aggressively or defensively when provoked. Studies also show that other people feel energized by the grateful person’s positive attitude. Gratitude is contagious!
and … Good for the Soul: Science can’t prove it, but adopting an attitude of thankfulness draws us deeper into relationship with God. Martin Luther once wrote: “God’s wonderful works which happen daily are lightly esteemed, not because they are of no import but because they happen so constantly and without interruption.” We can be so focused on life’s hurts and how we’ve been disappointed that we fail to recognize all the ways in which our loving Father blesses us every day. If you can draw breath without a machine to assist you, give thanks. If you woke up this morning and found that night had given way to daylight, just as it should, give thanks. If your mind can recall good memories of times shared with people who have loved you, give thanks. If you can rest in the assurance of God’s promise that you will spend eternity with him because he paid the highest price to redeem your heart and soul, give thanks.
This holiday as you gather around the Thanksgiving table, take time to tell your friends and family how much you appreciate them. See if you can overlook personal irritations and unresolved conflicts and discover at least one good thing in each person. And then give thanks!
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….Then the God of peace will be with you. —Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)
Judith Ingram is the author of A Devotional Walk with Forgiveness, available from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Please visit the author at her website: http://www.judithingram.com.