When you think of Thanksgiving, what do you picture? Is it the stuffing and gravy? Maybe you picture the delicious desserts. Or, you may think of the food coma you’ll be in later that night. If you think about it, a lot of people binge eat on Thanksgiving (honestly I’m one of them most years). But surprisingly, Thanksgiving can actually be very healthy for you. It’s a time to appreciate the people in your life and all the things you have to be grateful for. Practicing gratitude on Thanksgiving can not only make you feel good but there are actually 6 science backed health benefits you can get from it.
Thanksgiving to me used to be different. I focused on other things besides being grateful on Thanksgiving. I used to think about on how much stuffing I would get to eat or argue with my cousins on which pie was the best (obviously pecan pie by the way).
But, Thanksgiving is so much more than the food. It literally gives us a whole day to focus on what’s important in life. We have a holiday where we get to appreciate all that we have in our lives. Because, let’s be real, most of the time we are focusing on what we don’t have. We think about that promotion we want or how lucky our skinny friend is who can eat whatever she wants.
Thanksgiving can jump start your mind to becoming a more grateful person. I’m not saying you are some ungrateful awful person but life gets in the way of paying attention to gratitude. But, if you start thinking about being grateful more often, you’ll see your entire world change. It took a lot of trial and error for me to start incorporating gratitude into my life but the benefits are totally worth it.
Benefits of Gratitude
Benefits Our Brains
A 2009 study in Oxford’s Cerebral Cortex Journal shows that the hypothalamus is activated when you feel gratitude or show an act of kindness. The hypothalamus regulates a lot of very important functions in our body. Things like our appetites, sleep, temperature, and metabolism. Kind of important. So the fact that gratitude activates the hypothalamus means that gratitude can literally help your brain function.
Reduces Pain and Boosts Your Overall Health
You might be thinking that I mean emotional pain. Nope, I’m talking about that physical ouch kind of pain. Berkeley’s Greater Good magazine did a study that found that found that participants who kept a gratitude journal for two weeks reported better overall physical health including less headaches and stomach pain, clearer skin, and reduces congestion. Think about how much you spend on skincare. Gratitude can be your new nightime serum!
In a 2009 study by the University of Manchester, had over 400 participants – 40% of which had sleeping disorders – complete questionnaires about gratitude, sleep, and thoughts before sleep. The study showed that participants who showed gratitude before bed not only fell asleep faster but also slept better and for longer.
Improves Mental Resilience
Anxiety, depression and stress are increasing by the day in our society. The fact that we are expected to work 24/7 and are constantly glued to our phones probably doesn’t help. Luckily, gratitude can be a tool to combat these mental issues that so many of us are struggling with.
Robert Emmons, who is a leading gratitude researcher, has had many studies show that gratitude increases happiness and decreases depression. Lowered depression isn’t the only benefit.
For people who are dealing with stress, studies have shown to help as well. A 2007 study looked at people with high blood pressure levels in inner cities. Those who expressed gratitude through a hotline for 10 weeks ended up with lower systolic blood pressures than those who did not express gratitude. Other potential gratitude benefits from this study included decreased hostility, increased likelihood of quitting smoking, and weight loss. (Just a few more benefits to entice you.)
Even those who go through tremendous stress benefit from gratitude. Higher levels of gratitude led to lowered rates of post-traumatic stress disorder for Vietnam War veterans during a 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy.
Greater Self Esteem
Admit it, you could use some better self esteem. I know I can. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology showed that gratitude had a positive improvement on athletes’ self esteem. Another study by the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology also showed that gratitude had a positive direct impact on student self esteem. Who knew that gratitude could make you feel so good?
Improves Empathy / Reduces Aggression
The University of Kentucky studied the impact gratitude has on empathy and aggression. Even when receiving negative feedback, people who express gratitude more have more empathy towards other people are are less likely to seek revenge on others. Imagine what our world would be like if everyone practiced gratitude more often.
Embracing Gratitude on Thanksgiving
Like with any habit, you need to make it a pattern in your life. You’ve learned all of the ways that being grateful can benefit you. Now it’s time to put it in action starting this Thanksgiving.
Pick a time, either first thing in the morning, with your family at the dinner table, or right before bed to write down 3 things you are grateful for. It could be anything – your mother, the fact that you have a washing machine in your apartment (a serious blessing for me coming from NYC), access to clean water, the fact that you’re not allergic to dogs. Coming up with 3 things is pretty easy when you think about it.
Now once you have your three things written down. I’m talking about handwritten not on your phone. Writing makes it easier to remember and your brain processes it differently. All you have to do next is write 3 different things the next day. Try to go 30 days straight and see how it makes you feel. You’ll be surprised how much you want to make this a continuous habit.
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