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Giving Thanks Makes us Happier

We are faced with high expectations for festive coziness this time of year and for many, this time of year can be faced with sadness, anxiety, and depression. It can be common to feel a sense of loss, overwhelmed, or down this time of year. Research suggests that one aspect of the Thanksgiving season can actually lift our spirits as it often has us reflect on a component of being grateful.

Whether you are faced with heavy feelings or blessed with warmth, a heart of thanksgiving provides a positive impact. The Thanksgiving season often has us reflect on gratitude, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. In some ways, gratitude encompasses all of these meanings.

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.

With gratitude, people acknowledge the internal and external goodness in their lives. This connects us to something more, something larger, a type of higher power…this connects us to Jesus!

In positive psychology research shows that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with reader happiness. Psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough have conducted significant research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative).

After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

Another leading psychologist in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people. Each participant was compared with a previous control assignment of writing about early memories. When the participants’ weekly assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited an enormous increase in happiness scores.

This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.

Although studies such as this one cannot prove cause and effect, most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being. Furthermore, these secular studies only prove The Bible to be correct on what it says about thankfulness.

Emmons, R. & McCullough, M., “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003, Vol. 84, No. 2, 377–389.