The giving of thanks, expressions of gratitude for things big and small, is rooted in traditions recorded throughout history and across cultures and nations. More than merely an opportunity to break bread with family and friends, recent research is beginning to confirm what we have intuitively known, that living in a state of thankfulness is good for health.
On the eve of our Thanksgiving Day, gratitude and health, what do you know?
T or F?
1. Gratefulness appears to have no affect on immune system function.
2. Grateful folks tend to be optimistic about the future.
3. Grateful folks tend to manage stress in a positive manner.
There is much historical back and forth about the origins of our Thanksgiving Day. Historians debate the menu, location, date, everything about the celebration. We do know that for some of the original colonists, thanksgiving literally meant, "prayer." Thanksgiving was not observed through feast, but, rather, fasting.
Fasting evinced discipline and afforded an opportunity for self-reflection and for thinking about life. The tradition of honoring that outside of ourselves, whether that be circumstance, people or deities, took hold in the colonies and later the United States. These traditions continue today, individually and as a nation. We have always been a grateful nation, tracing back to traditions brought by the colonists and merged with those of Native Americans. These feelings of thankfulness, influenced by home, community and worship have shaped our national identity and influenced each of us as Americans.
Abraham Lincoln was the target of a one-woman writing campaign waged by magazine editor (and writer of the famed poem, Mary Had A Little Lamb) Sarah Josepha Hale. On the eve of a looming Civil War, she thought that a declared national day of thanksgiving would be good for the psyche of a nation on the brink of disaster. Mr. Lincoln finally agreed, and in 1863 officially proclaimed the last Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day. Although it did not dampen the winds of war, Thanksgiving Day is entrenched in America’s culture and positive collective national psychology.
Researchers have found that grateful people, those whose core traits include deep appreciation, are generally healthier. "Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet and regular physical examinations," according to University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmon, a leading researcher in the field of "happiness psychology."
There are some interesting aspects to the relationship between gratitude and health which researchers are just beginning to define and explore. It appears that there is more optimism among, "the gratefuls" and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Optimism also appears to be related to a more robust and active immune system. Further, stress appears to be managed more positively among those who are inherently thankful.
Gratitude is the remembrance of the heart. This is my favorite definition of gratitude. My mom, who has lived her life with gratefulness, can still recount Thanksgiving gatherings from oh so long ago. Remembrances so seared in her heart and mind as to somehow miraculously be insulated from the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease. She talks. I listen. Thankful. This Thursday we will gather in public and private ceremony to demonstrate the remembrances of our collective hearts. For that I am grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.
Answers: 1. F; 2. T; 3. T.
Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.