• by Susan Sussman - Sun, 2013-12-08 17:12

November in the United States is associated with both the holiday of Thanksgiving and the concept of thanksgiving, which we commonly understand as a synonym for gratitude.  The Thanksgiving holiday coincides with the fall harvest and its associated feelings of gratitude for life’s emotional and material comforts – family, friends, food, home & hearth. The concept of thanksgiving or gratitude is a construct that helps us to understand and measure our personal wellbeing or happiness.

Gratitude is an important concept in Positive Psychology because of its intimate relationship with wellbeing.  In plain English this suggests that people who practice the “habit” of gratitude are happier (experience a greater sense of wellbeing) than those who don’t. So, what does it mean to practice the gratitude habit? Researchers like Robert Emmons at the University of California/Davis, Michael McCullough at the University of Miami, Marty Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, and Chris Peterson, help us to operationalize gratitude by showing us what it looks like in both controlled research settings and everyday behavior.  They have also helped us to measure the benefits of engaging in gratitude-related behaviors like the following:

·      Keeping a gratitude journal

·      Writing and then personally reading a thank you letter to someone you’ve never thanked

·      Engaging in random acts of kindness

·      Multiplying feelings of gratitude by looking at the past, present & future and engaging in the behavior of “savoring” positive experiences and feelings

o   Retrieving positive memories and being thankful for past blessings

o   Relishing current positive experiences, and putting them in the bank as insurance to draw on in hard times

o   Cultivating a hopeful, optimistic attitude about the future

·      Prayer and meditation or mindfulness can help cultivate a positive frame of mind by turning down the volume on judging ourselves and others, and connecting us to a higher purpose/power

The researchers found that people who adopt gratitude behaviors are more engaged in their relationships and their work; they exercised more and were healthier than their control group peers, with fewer visits to doctors; they felt happier and more optimistic and were more consistently and better able to dispel negative thoughts; they felt more connected to others and the world.

As we enjoy our Thanksgiving holidays, let’s shine a light on gratitude: whatever our circumstances, we have much to be grateful for.