Thanksgiving every day

With his usual wry ambivalence, CN&R columnist Anthony Peyton Porter writes this week about Thanksgiving and the benefits of feeling gratitude (see From The Edge). What he doesn’t mention, however, is that researchers have weighed in on this issue and found empirical evidence that gratitude is good for us.

One scientist who has centered his work on the role gratitude plays in our lives is Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis. In one notable experiment, he and another professor, Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, took three groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on one of three things each week: the hassles in their lives, the things for which they were grateful, and ordinary, neutral life events. The result: The people who focused on gratitude were happier. They viewed life more positively, reported fewer ailments such as headaches and colds, and were active in healthful ways, especially exercising. In short, they had a higher quality of life.

In another study, the professors expanded their original experiment by asking their respondents to focus as directed every day, rather than weekly. The results were even more remarkable: Those who focused on gratitude were not only happier, they were also less materialistic, less depressive, less envious and anxious, and more likely to help others. All in all, they were more joyful, enthusiastic and optimistic.

Yes, life sometimes presents us with painful situations in which it can be difficult to feel gratitude. And yet how many of us have known someone who, faced with a terminal illness, managed to find joy in each moment of life remaining? Gratitude has that power. We might all consider, as we gather with our families this Thanksgiving, how we can incorporate gratitude into every day of our lives—every moment, for that matter.

Happy Thanksgiving from the CN&R staff.