Health Effects of Giving Thanks

On the heels of a generous fall of light and color, when bright pumpkins and squash signaled the coming Thanksgiving Feast, the plight of Parisians, of Syrians fleeing their country and our complicity in the chain of world events jolts us. We are no longer simply New Englanders; we are all world citizens who need to figure out how we can share this bountiful, beautiful Earth.

How can the spirit of Thanksgiving help us? Fortunately, several academic studies of the health effects of grateful people are freely available by googling ‘gratitude researchers’.

Lisa Aspinwall (University of Utah), and Robert Emmons (UC Davis) both study the health effects of giving thanks. In separate studies they found that grateful people have higher levels of alertness, determinism, optimism, and energy; they take better care of themselves, have less stress, exercise more, are happier, have stronger immune systems, and hold a brighter view of the future. Their academic studies and more are on the internet (google ‘gratitude researchers’). The health effects Aspinwall and Emmons found are attributes we need if we are to bring a healthful spirit of cooperation to the world and end our relentless competitive streak.

So, what do people do to build the habit of giving thanks? Options are wide open! Everything, every person, and every interaction is fair game.

One option is to keep a daily list of whatever makes us feel grateful. We begin to notice and observe more. At the end of the first day, we may jot down a special tree or path, a kind person, bubbly children, and a sunset. Day 2 might include the veto of the Tar Sands Project, a family gathering, a mentor, a bird that seemed to connect with us, lunch full of laughter with friends, a good day’s work. Day 3 might include a good night’s sleep, a warm jacket, a gentle snow, a call from a friend, fresh eggs, a raise in pay, snow tires, a great mechanic, and an awesome concert. My experience with this list keeping is that the list keeps getting longer each day as I ‘see’ more.

This habit gradually shapes us to be on the lookout in all our ordinary experiences, lets us see how much we do have to be thankful for and to acknowledge! Our expressions of thanks relax us and give us the energy to come up with positive possibilities for life here on Earth.

May we use our energies to figure out ways to share the earth’s bountiful resources so that we and the rest of the world can join in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

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