Today is Thanksgiving Day – a day that falls on the fourth Thursday of every November. After over four centuries, the long weekend celebrations in the US have emerged into a many-million-dollar industry now with its effect cascading as ripples onto the other parts of the globe.
The concise Oxford dictionary of Etymology defines thanks as “a kindly thought, favour, gratitude, expression of gratitude” and has Old English þancian origins.
Happiness research is unprecedented in troubled times like ours and the key word in this research is “gratitude” – thankfulness. The pioneers in this research are Robert Emmons and Mike McCullough. Psychologists working at the University of California and Miami respectively, both have been collaborators at many happiness research projects. According to them the “forgotten factor” in happiness research is gratitude or thankfulness. The Scottish philosopher Thomas Brown had earlier defined gratitude as "the delightful emotion of love to him who has conferred a kindness on us, the very feeling of which is itself no small part of the benefit conferred."
Though contemporary French philosopher André Comte-Sponville (2001) pointed out, gratitude is “the most pleasant of the virtues and the most virtuous of the pleasures” (p. 132), gratitude had never been studied seriously by scientific psychologists. This prompted Emmons to probe into this act of pleasure in receiving and soon discovered that gratitude is a deep complex phenomenon, plays a critical role in one’s sense of happiness and can measurably change people’s lives. In his book Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier, Emmons says how he and McCollough together through their collaborative project discovered scientific proof that if we practice regular and systematic gratitude, it brings about remarkable psychological and physiological benefits.
So what makes us get the benefits of gratitude? Researchers have found that the very thought of thankfulness triggers the parasympathetic i.e. calming branch of the autonomic nervous system. When this trigger keeps repeating, it gifts a protective effect on the heart. This results in the emergence of positive emotions and can even reduce hypertension and heart ailments. The more we pause to appreciate and show caring and compassion, the more order and coherence we experience internally. In A Different Kind of Health: Finding Well-Being despite Illness, Blair Justice says when our hearts are in an "internal coherence state," studies suggest that we enjoy the capacity to be peaceful and calm and at the same time retain the ability to respond appropriately to stressful circumstances.
Gratitude, then, can be a total body experience and beyond - meaning the deepest and widest gratitude comes from the soul and that part of the brain - the amygdala - that registers "soul" experiences. So when we look at snow-capped peaks or golden beaches or the Milky Way at a moonless night, our souls sing and our bodies are suffused with streams of dopamine and serotonin, the gifts of gratitude. In short, feeling gratitude and appreciation on a regular basis helps heal us at every level of our being.
In an experimental comparison by Emmons & McCollough, it was found that those who kept gratitude journals were happier, healthier and felt good about life. So gratitude is really good for you! Moreover, if you are happy and cheerful faced, you are sure to earn better opportunities than your dour faced co-workers. Your interpersonal relationships will also perk up giving you an innate sense of goodwill and accomplishment. Give continuously and gratefully placing yourself in the flow of life. Such a person generates a lot of gratitude which in turn attracts all people around to do the same. Imagine the joy of working amid such a crowd! :)
How can you practice gratitude? Here are some simple doable tips:
· Keep a gratitude journal and list on a daily basis everything you are thankful for.
· Write a thank you note to anyone in your life who deserves a pat on the back.
· Begin and end each day by thinking of five things you are grateful for.
· Appreciate family and friends on a regular basis.
· When things go your way, smile and be thankful for them.
· Enjoy the beautiful sunrise, the food that you eat, the water that you drink, the air that you breathe, the colours you see, the music you hear ... all those things that you take so much for granted!
So instead of celebrating a long weekend of thanksgiving, let us make every single day of ours one of gratitude & thanksgiving.
I am starting a gratitude journal today. How about you???
T. F. Hoad "thank." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. <http://www.encyclopedia.com>
Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier; by Robert A Emmons, Ph.D. 2007
A Different Kind of Health: Finding Well-Being despite Illness, by Blair Justice, pp. 100-101. 1998