Our Thanksgiving family tradition is to go around the table and express gratitude for our blessings. It’s such a simple exercise, and yet almost as satisfying as the feasting. Maybe we shouldn’t confine it to Thanksgiving? We have observant Jewish friends who’ve done something like this every week at Shabbat dinners. Each person cites a “highlight of the week.” It sets a tone.
For me there is a spiritual dimension to giving thanks. But even from a purely instrumental perspective, there is good evidence that gratitude increases happiness. As the Harvard Healthbeat newsletter reports, a number of studies have tested this. Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami designed a study in which participants were divided into three groups. The first was encouraged to record things that had gone well for them. The second took notes on things that irritated them. And the third just wrote down matters that had affected them for good or ill. At the end of 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. As a group they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than the other study participants.More