Power of Thanksgiving in Hard Times

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Understanding the scientific proofs on how thankfulness boosts one’s health, happiness and sense of well-being, I was particularly struck in studying that our national holiday of gratitude, Thanksgiving, was birthed and grew out of hard times. The first Thanksgiving took place after nearly half the pilgrims died from a rough winter and difficult year. It became a national holiday in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War and was moved to its current date in November in the 1930s following the Depression.

Amid great challenges past and present, being grateful has been shown to be more than just helpful to boosting health and wellbeing – it’s vital!!

Many express gratitude by saying “thank you” however, from a scientific perspective, gratitude is not just an action: it is also a positive emotion that serves a biological purpose. Positive psychology defines gratitude in a way where scientists can measure its effects, and thus argue that gratitude is more than feeling thankful: it is a deeper appreciation for someone (or something) that produces longer lasting positivity.

Thanksgiving: Mental, Physical and Emotional Health Benefits of Gratitude 

  • Your gratitude fosters a sense of purpose, pleasantness, and trust—all traits that are profoundly magnetic in your key connections. This deepens the bonds and healthy respect in relationships with people, animals, nature, spirituality, projects, the arts, sciences…the list goes on. This in turn can have dramatic and lasting effect on your health as it can help lower blood pressure, improve immune function, and facilitate more efficient sleep. 
  • Speaking of positive benefits, being well-rested after a good night of quality sleep is vital to your health. Sleep is your body’s and mind’s repair mode. Your cells, tissues, muscles, hormones and mind are all replenishing during the deepest phases of sleep – ensuring you are operating at your best the next day and embracing your thankful heart.
  • By valuing and appreciating friends, oneself, situations, and circumstances, thanksgiving focuses the mind on what you already have rather than something that’s absent and is needed. Powerful, this gratitude “focus” often shifts people from what their life lacks to the abundance that is already present. It fuels feelings of joy and contentment which in turn improves psychological health, reducing a multitude of toxic emotions, such as worry, anger, resentment, envy, bitterness, frustration, and regret. 
  • Gratitude helps cope with hard times. In the face of challenges, gratitude has the power to energize the body, mind and soul; to heal a broken spirit and bring hope. Research reports it reduces risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.
  • By stimulating positive emotions, you are boosting your physical health. Decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression work to decrease your risk for heart disease, sleep and eating disorders, asthma, migraines, and alcohol and drug abuse. 
  • And studies emphasize it helps you to be more physically active, thereby increasing endorphin levels — your body’s natural painkiller.

Gratitude is a Powerful Emotion – a Healthy Affirmation of Goodness.

Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to remind us of this important and beneficial practice of experiencing and expressing gratitude. Affirm the goodness, gifts and benefits in your life while recognizing what’s valuable and meaningful to you. 

  • Reflect on the goodness in your life. Look to your past at warm memories; your present, what you have and too, your future –helping to maintain your own feelings of hope and optimism. 
  • Reflect on sources of goodness from other people, animals, nature, events – and so on. Include others’ impact that may have made sacrifices for your good. And those personal benefits that were not intentionally sought after, deserved, or earned but rather provided because of the good intentions of another.
  • Make time to express thanks to those you love either with a text, email, call, card, or visit (gratitude is rich when given… and too, received.)
  • Journal what you are grateful for on a daily or weekly basis. 
  • Be grateful for unmet expectations (job loss, end of a relationship, failed opportunity, health challenges) – while they can be deeply disappointing at the time, it provides new paths and opportunities as well as keen insights and lessons that make you stronger, wiser, and more aware.   
  • I read once that to practice gratefulness, we must put stop signs in our life, to make time to recognize it, give it, receive it. Plan your stops. Perhaps in the morning,  or before a meal or going to bed. Acknowledge what and who you are thankful for –  it’s rewarding!! You’ll be healthier, happier and wiser for it! 

Thanksgiving has the power to make us healthier and unite us – even when we cannot unite – as we share in expressing gratitude. Share the joy!! Happy Thanksgiving!!

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.

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