There are a lot of myths around the first American Thanksgiving in 1621, but one thing is for sure. The Pilgrims were lucky to be alive, and they knew it.
“Eleven months earlier the Pilgrims had arrived at the tip of Cape Cod, fearful and uninformed,” says Nathaniel Philbrick in his history Mayflower. “By all rights, none of the Pilgrims should have emerged from the first winter alive.”
But they did. Thanks to God, their faith, and help from many Native Americans, they did more than survive. They began to flourish. And it’s a virtuous circle.
Most of us know this from personal experience, but for the last several years researchers have come to the conclusion that gratitude is a key component of helping people live happier and longer.
I know this is true in my life. It seem the more I give thanks, the more reasons I have for gratitude.
We all know that materialistic people who expect possessions to make them happy are usually unhappy—no matter how much stuff they get their hands on.
The reason, according to researchers at my alma mater Baylor University, is that by focusing on what we do not have, we are less likely to give thanks for what we do. And gratitude leads directly to feelings of satisfaction and wellbeing.
How? According to research reported by Robert A. Emmons and Anjali Mishra, there are several scientifically supported ways gratitude helps us flourish. Here are four I found especially compelling:
- Gratitude reduces our stress. Thankfulness redirects our attention from our difficulties to the benefits we enjoy. It’s like creating a stockpile of good thoughts for when times are tough. It also helps us reframe our losses and stay connected emotionally to friends and family.
- Gratitude inoculates us from negative emotions. When we focus on what we don’t have or how our decisions could have turned out better, we leave room for resentment, envy, and regret to build. Gratitude can keep these feelings at bay.
- Gratitude sustains our relationships. Let me just ask, Do you like hanging out with people that gripe and complain? Me neither. It’s gratitude that draws people together, builds trust, and strengthens ties. That’s true in the workplace, among friends, in families, and between husbands and wives.
- Gratitude improves our health. Grateful people visit their doctors less often and live longer than others. The research shows that thankfulness helps us sleep better, control our blood pressure, and generally reduce physical complaints.
Given these four ways gratitude can benefit us, I’d say we have some very good reasons to return thanks more than once a year. Cultivating gratitude makes each day worth living and might even give us more days.
However we do it—make lists of our blessings, journal our gratitude, practice mindfulness, pray, find a trigger to pause and express thanks, write notes to colleagues and friends—let’s just make sure we do it.