Thanksgiving is only a couple weeks away and preparations have begun for the holiday. Turkeys have been ordered, ingredients purchased for pie baking and plane reservations made to visit family. The fall holiday is often associated with the star bird of the day and lots of other delicious food.

But when it comes down to it, the holiday can easily be explained through its very simple name which includes the terms “thanks” and “giving.” A common family tradition involves going around the table on Thanksgiving Day and sharing why you’re grateful. 

Gratitude is defined in the dictionary as a state of being thankful or appreciative. November is often a time when people reflect on what they appreciate in their life and how they can share good will with others. Feelings of gratitude and giving are not only good for the soul but also for your health apparently.

Research finds gratefulness has social, mental and physical benefits

The Greater Good magazine is published by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California. The publication includes stories about scientific research which helps promote happiness and compassion.

The magazine published an article in 2007 about paying it forward written by Robert A. Emmons, a scientific expert on gratitude. Emmons has a Ph.D. and is a professor of psychology at the University of California. In the article, Emmons describes what he believes is the essence of gratitude.

“Gratitude is more than a pleasant feeling; it is also motivating. Gratitude serves as a key link between receiving and giving: It motivates recipients to share and increase the very good they have received,” he stated in the article.

Emmons goes on to describe several social research studies he was involved with and their outcomes. He conducted several studies with a colleague to explore the science of gratitude. These studies involved three different testing groups. People in the first group were tasked with describing things they were grateful for such as waking up in the morning or having generous friends. The second group did the opposite and described things which annoyed them such as having a messy kitchen or difficult parking situations. The third group was asked to write about events which impacted them with no specifics on whether it should be positive or negative. The test group who wrote about gratefulness in their journals reported being about 25 percent happier than the other two groups.

Emmons wrote another article titled "Why Gratitude is Good," which was published in the Greater Good magazine in 2010. During his studies, Emmons would ask participants to keep a “gratitude journal.” He stated more than 1,000 people have been involved in the studies and their ages ranged from eight to 80. People who kept a gratitude journal and practiced the concept on a consistent basis reported physical, psychological and social benefits. Physical benefits included less aches and pains, getting more sleep and even lower blood pressure. Greater joy, optimism and happiness were listed as some of the psychological benefits. People listed feeling less lonely, being more forgiving and more compassionate as some of the social benefits.

Acts of gratitude and giving found to have physical changes in the body

The gratitude studies conducted by Emmons often involved self-reporting with people giving an account of how they felt post the experiment. There has also been research published which explains how feelings of gratitude or giving can lead to physical changes in the body.

A study published in a September 2019 issue of the journal Emotion examined how feeling grateful and giving support impacted inflammation, as a physical health indicator of the body. A group of healthy women were divided into two different groups for a six-week period. One group wrote about topics meant to promote gratitude while the other group wrote about neutral topics. The women who experienced the gratitude intervention gave more support than the neutral group. The study also discovered women who were less stressed, gave more support after the gratitude intervention. As a result of these findings, the study concluded there was a link between giving more support and a decrease in inflammatory markers.

A 2017 edition of The Journal of Positive Psychology published findings of a study about how gratitude impacts a specific biomarker of health. Blood sugar control in the body is indicated by something called hemoglobin A1c. A national survey revealed people who had stronger feelings of gratitude then had lower levels of the indicator used for blood sugar control.

Ways to express gratitude and the giving spirit this holiday season

The feeling of gratitude and the act of giving to others isn’t limited to just Thanksgiving Day. People can express both in a variety of ways throughout the month and all year long. Below are two upcoming events focused on the nature of giving and thankfulness.

REI is the abbreviation for the outdoor recreation retailer Recreation Equipment, Inc. The outfitter is promoting an #OptOutside campaign this Black Friday. Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving which many people use to shop for discounted items. REI will be closed on Black Friday and is asking their employees, customers and communities to use the day to positively impact the world. The #OptOutside website list more than 80 cleanups taking place this month through REI and several of the cleanups are located in the Philadelphia region. The retailer even has a do-it-yourself cleanup kit which can be purchased for $10. The kit includes reusable work gloves, a mesh bag and an “Opt to Act” bandanna. For more information about the campaign and the upcoming area cleanups, visit www.rei.com/opt-outside.

Following Black Friday is a global movement known as Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday has been around since 2012. It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and is all about promoting generosity. Several local nonprofit organizations will be doing a campaign on Giving Tuesday to encourage people to support their mission through efforts such as volunteering and giving donations. For more information about Giving Tuesday, visit www.givingtuesday.org/about.

In addition to cooking, gift shopping and decorating this holiday season; it’s important to also take time to reflect on grateful life experiences and acts of goodwill to others.

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