Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. What could be better than a whole day devoted to food, friendship, and gratitude?
In fact, Thanksgiving is actually the healthiest holiday we have. And I’m not just talking about the turkey and the side dishes.
Thanksgiving is the healthiest holiday because the benefits of gratitude are measurable.
In a WebMD feature, Elizabeth Heubeck summarized some of the health benefits of giving thanks. University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons conducted a study on gratitude, finding that grateful people–those who perceive gratitude as a permanent trait rather than a temporary state of mind–have an edge on the not-so-grateful when it comes to health. “Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular physical examinations,” Emmons told WebMD.
Gratitude acts as a stress buster. An inability to deal with stress is attributed to up to 90 percent of all doctor visits, and is linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer. “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have a tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress,” Emmons says.
I know this to be true in my own life. I keep what I call my “gifts journal,” noting the things that felt like gifts on a given day. As I thank God for these gifts, my focus changes from any problems I may have to the love that inspired such gifts of grace. I can tell you, this one simple action has totally transformed my life. Not only did it cure me of a postpartum depression years ago, but it has continued to relieve stress and be the source of much joy and strength.
Gratitude acts as an immune booster. When you’re grateful, you also tend to be optimistic. According to Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, “There are some very interesting studies linking optimism to better immune function.” In one, researchers compared the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students under stress. They round that, by midterm, the students characterized as optimistic (based on survey responses) maintained a higher number of white blood cells (which protect the immune system), compared with their more pessimistic classmates.
Optimism also has a positive health impact on people whose health is already compromised. In separate studies, patients with AIDS, as well as those preparing to undergo surgery, had better health outcomes when they maintained attitudes of optimism.
So as you partake of the wonderfully healthy foods of Thanksgiving, I hope you’ll also take time to feed your soul and strengthen your body by recounting all the things you’re grateful for.
And don’t stop at Thanksgiving Day, either! (I have s sample journal you can use to keep track of your “abundant gifts” throughout the year. )