The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Enid Features

November 21, 2012

Gratitude is good for you

You know the story of the first Thanksgiving. Who had most reason to be thankful on that mythical day at Plymouth Rock in 1621?

Native American tribes have always had traditional rituals — dances and powwows — to express their deepest appreciation for the wonder of the harvest. Their visitors from across the sea had different rituals and different prayers, but no less thankfulness. It’s appropriate that these gestures of mutual gratitude, respect and friendship have become institutionalized as a national holiday.

No matter how big or small the harvest, we have a lot to be thankful for. And studies show that being thankful is good for your health.

Groundbreaking studies were done by psychologists such as Robert Emmons of the University of California Davis and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami. Emmons and McCullough performed a series of studies in 2003 later published in an academic book, “The Psychology of Gratitude” (Oxford University Press, 2004).

The first two studies involved healthy university students and the third focused on adults with various neuromuscular illnesses. Subjects in all of these studies were divided into three groups and asked to maintain a journal for varying lengths of time.

Group A recorded things for which they were grateful.

Group B recorded things that annoyed or irritated them.

Group C recorded things that had a major impact on their lives.

Over the short term, subjects in Group A clearly experienced higher levels of well being. Over a 10-week period, results showed significant social and physical benefits as well for subjects focused on gratitude.

Other studies, before and after, confirmed those results. Expressing gratitude is associated with significantly greater happiness, optimism, satisfaction with life and progress toward meeting life goals.

Showing that we don’t take others for granted has been proven an effective way of maintaining friendships and even forming new ones. One study of Big Sisters and Little Sisters in a college sorority found that pampering activities between the groups over a week was an effective way of establishing mutual gratitude and a strong long-term relationship.

As for physical health, studies have shown that grateful people tend to exercise more, sleep better, have fewer headaches, higher levels of energy and heightened immunity.

Putting all this into practice requires more than one day a year, but Thanksgiving, because of its traditions, may be a good place to start.

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