Walking into the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning can be like walking into aromatic heaven — turkey, pumpkin pie, stuffing, green beans, potatoes all mingled together into the most comforting smell. Not long after that, family fills the house, shoulder to shoulder, with stomachs full of food and hearts full of gratitude.
This is the season that we have set aside for being thankful. We spend time reflecting on the things that we are most grateful for — perhaps our families, our friends, our health, or our jobs. The food was (and still is) a great reason to be thankful. However, why do we reserve all this gratitude for one day of the year? Why don’t we practice thankfulness all the time? Conventional wisdom says that it is good to be grateful, and every major world religion, spiritual tradition, and philosophy touts its benefit. The Roman Philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero said of gratitude as a virtue: “For this one virtue is not only the greatest, it is also the parent of all the other virtues.” So, why do we confine this virtue into one feast every year?
Not only does the collective wisdom of human culture recognize the power of gratitude, but research has also supported the benefits of practicing this virtue. One study showed that people who practiced gratitude for over 10 weeks reported feeling more optimistic about their lives, spent more time exercising, and experienced a decrease in physical complaints. Subsequent studies showed that participants also experienced more and better sleep, and reported engaging in helping others more often (Emmons and McCullough 2003). Other studies have suggested that an increase in gratitude is especially helpful in the short-term treatment of depression and is a “potential avenue for spontaneous remission from depression” (Disabato et. al 2017).
Thankfulness can also be cultivated through community. Practicing gratitude in faith settings can lead to more social and emotional support and less symptoms of depression (Krause et. al 2014). All of this evidence compels us to take nothing for granted, and to continually remember the things we are thankful for, especially when we are going through a rough time in our lives.
This Thanksgiving, give thanks for all of the blessing you have received, but don’t stop there. Take time every day to recognize all the things, great and small, that you are thankful for and share it with others.
Disabato, D., Kashdan, T., Short, J., & Jarden, A. (2017). What Predicts Positive Life Events that Influence the Course of Depression? A Longitudinal Examination of Gratitude and Meaning in Life. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 41(3), 444–458.
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389.
Krause, N., Bruce, D., Hayward, R. D., & Woolever, C. A. (2014). Gratitude to God, self-rated health, and depressive symptoms. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 53(2), 341–355.