Have you ever thought of Thanksgiving Day as the healthiest holiday of the year?
Family recipes and a variety of foods - lots of food - are a big part of Thanksgiving tradition.
And while we are continually warned of the dangers of excessive eating, trans fats, and cholesterol, it turns out big portions of gratitude are actually healthy for us.
The effects of thankfulness on health are measurable, according to researchers who have been studying the connection with great interest. One example: Robert Emmons at the University of California-Davis with Michael McCullough from the University of Miami have deduced that people feel better physically and mentally when counting their blessings. Their study, "Counting Blessings Vs. Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life," was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The two psychologists open their report with a Charles Dickens quote: "Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some." The researchers conducted three separate studies. "In each study, inducing a state of gratefulness through the self-guided gratitude exercises led to some emotional, physical, or interpersonal benefits," according to their findings.
Counting our blessings instead of inventorying our troubles is sage advice that promotes added benefits. Health expert Mary Baker Eddy once asked, "Are we really grateful for the good already received?" The founder of the Christian Science church continued, "Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessing we have, and thus be fitted to receive more." Eddy felt that gratitude was such a vital component to physical and mental well-being, she established a special Thanksgiving Day service to be conducted in Christian Science churches on Thanksgiving Day, a tradition that continues to this day.
"Expressing thanks may be one of the simplest ways to feel better," according to the Harvard Mental Health Letter. "Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack."
In reporting on some of the gratitude research, the bulletin with the headline, In Praise of Gratitude, stipulates that the studies cannot prove cause and effect, but "most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual's well-being."
The Harvard Medical School newsletter also suggests ways to cultivate gratitude on a consistent basis. They include:
* Write a thank-you note.
* Thank someone mentally.
* Keep a gratitude journal.
* Count your blessings.
Gratitude is good medicine. At a time when many of us are seeking an approach to health that is readily accessible and puts us in the driver's seat, it is great to know that something as immediate and under our control as gratitude can improve our health.
Reviewing the research that connects gratitude with better health, Elizabeth Heubeck, writer for WebMD, asks a thought-provoking question, "What would happen if we extended the tradition of giving thanks, typically celebrated just once a year during the holiday season, throughout the entire year?" Think about it.
(Salt is a writer and blogger covering health, spirituality and thought. He is a Christian Science practitioner.)