Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Got Gratitude? It's Not Just for Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a reminder that gratitude matters every day

Having a yearly date set aside to be thankful is a reminder that being grateful everyday matters for both physical and mental health and well being.

Thanksgiving is one of those rare holidays that is generally pretty low key, not very commercial (e.g., you aren't expected to spend lots of money buying Thanksgiving gifts after all), and a day to give thanks and be grateful. Of course, for some it's a day to watch football, eat too much, and spend time with friends and family too (which you might be grateful for or not). Thanksgiving is celebrated not only in the United States but in Canada (on October 1st) and elsewhere. For me, it is an important reminder to be grateful every day.

Research has well demonstrated that those who have an ongoing tendency to be grateful experience better physical and psychological health and well being. They tend to be more optimistic, sociable, and engaged in life. They are less susceptible to depression, anxiety, anger, and others negative emotions that can lead to health damaging behaviors and functioning. Being grateful is good for your health.

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I have a clinical patient who always finds what is wrong with people... her family, her neighbors, and most everyone she interacts with. No matter how gracious and kind people are to her, she finds a way to criticize. Needless to say, she has few friends and many people avoid her. We have worked hard over several years to help her learn to be more grateful and to experience the glass as half full rather than half empty when interacting with others. It's been working. She has more satisfying relationships, a wider circle of friends, and her family members have been more eager to spend time with her now. As she has become more grateful she has had better health too. She's a good example of how working to be more grateful can have both expected and unexpected positive benefits.

A second clinical patient I see is always very grateful and positive. Although he has dealt with some major stressors and tragedies, he maintains a spirit of gratefulness at all times. Some think he's in denial but I see it very differently. He spent a number of years in a refugee camp overseas before coming to the USA. When people ask him how he maintains such as positive and grateful stance in the face of many stressors and some serious problems he smiles and says that after spending so many years in a refugee camp each and every day he has in the USA is a gift and reason to be grateful no matter what happens. His grateful attitude has served him well in coping with stressors and in providing him with a wide circle of friends and supporters.

So, as we approach Thanksgiving this week, what are you grateful for? Can you continue to focus on gratefulness even when the holiday is over? Can you make gratefulness a part of your daily experience? Doing the right thing for yourself and others means finding ways to be grateful for all that you have and hold. Personally, I start my day thanking God for giving me another day and try my best to remind myself that whatever I get day-to-day is gift and blessing. I am certainly grateful for much. How about you?  What are you grateful for?  

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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