Thanksgiving is a day of wonderful traditions – family get-togethers, good food, pro football, and even a time to thank God and each other for all our blessings. And, did you know that research is beginning to consistently show that gratitude is an important part of one’s wellbeing?
WebMD’s medical writer, Elizabeth Heubeck posted, “No pill? No strict diet or exercise regimen? Can just a positive emotion such as gratitude guarantee better health?” She answered, “It may be a dramatic departure from what we’ve been taught about how to get healthier, but the connection between gratitude and health goes back a long way” (http://women.webmd.com/features/graitude-health-boost?).
Heubeck also quoted University of California psychology professor Robert Emmons, “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress.” Emmons told WebMd that up to 90% of doctor visits are stress-related.
Emmons’ own research has included participants divided into three groups. At the end of each week, one group wrote down five things they were thankful for, another group kept an account of daily troubles, and a control group listed five occurrences that made an impression upon them. Among other things, Emmons found that those in the gratitude group reported fewer health problems than the other participants.
According to Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, “There are some very interesting studies linking optimism [a tendency in many grateful people] to better immune function.”
Her research included two groups of healthy, first-year law students. At midterms, those characterized as optimistic had higher numbers of blood cells that protect the immune system, when compared with their more pessimistic classmates.
How does one cultivate gratitude? Emmons’ research showed that individuals who keep a weekly gratitude journal, “report fewer symptoms [of disease], feel better about their lives as a whole, and maintain greater optimism about the future.”
Over the centuries, prayer has also been a form of gratitude – a way of acknowledging that there is a divine power directing, guiding and guarding our lives, thus relieving some of the pressure and frustration we all experience at times. And, The Bible is pretty clear that we should express this kind of gratitude not just when things are going to our liking. Rather, it counsels, “In everything give thanks” (I Thessalonians 5: 18).
It’s Thanksgiving – chow down, cheer for your favorite team and express thanks. This last one is good for your health!