As the title of the holiday suggests, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for all the things in your life. But giving thanks—or, in other words, expressing gratitude—is more than just a nice holiday ritual. The practice can have a seriously positive impact on your health, happiness, and overall well-being.
Let’s take a look at why practicing gratitude is a must if you want to be your happiest, healthiest self, as well as some fun gratitude practices to incorporate into your Thanksgiving Day celebrations this year.
How does gratitude impact health and happiness?
First things first. Before we jump into specific gratitude practices you can use to make yourself happier and healthier this Thanksgiving (and all year round!), let’s quickly cover how, exactly, gratitude influences health and happiness.
Gratitude can make you a happier, healthier person in a variety of ways, including:
Gratitude increases happiness and combats depression. One study found that people who practiced gratitude exercises experienced increased happiness and decreased rates of depression—and according to data from UC Davis, practicing two gratitude activities (writing letters expressing gratitude and counting their blessings) reduced the risk of depression in at-risk patients by 41 percent over a six-month period.
Gratitude strengthens relationships. Research has shown that gratitude makes you more likely to provide help to others, which can go a long way in forging strong relationships—which play a crucial role in both health and happiness.
Gratitude lowers stress. According to the data from UC Davis, people who practice gratitude have 23 percent lower levels of cortisol—also known as the “stress hormone.”
Gratitude lowers blood pressure. The data from UC Davis also shows that people who practice gratitude have 16 percent lower diastolic blood pressure and 10 percent lower systolic blood pressure than their less grateful counterparts.
Gratitude improves self-esteem. In a 2013 study, researchers found that athletes who expressed gratitude (both to their coaches and teammates) reported higher levels of self-esteem than their fellow athletes who didn’t show the same gratitude.
Clearly, if you’re looking to increase your health and happiness, gratitude is a solid way to do it. But how, exactly, do you practice gratitude—especially on Thanksgiving, gratitude’s unofficial holiday?
Kick off your Thanksgiving meal with a round of gratitude
For most people, the highlight of Thanksgiving is the big Thanksgiving meal. But before you dig into that turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, why not take a minute to incorporate a bit of gratitude into your holiday dinner?
Before you start eating, take a moment to express one thing you’re grateful for this Thanksgiving—for example, the opportunity to share the holiday with family and friends. Then, encourage everyone else at the table to do the same.
Kicking off your meal with a round of gratitude is a great way to honor the “thanks” element of Thanksgiving—so make sure to carve out a moment for that thanks before you start carving your turkey.
Use Thanksgiving as a jumping off point for a gratitude practice
Expressing gratitude before your Thanksgiving meal is great. But gratitude is like any other practice; the more you do it, the more benefits you’ll experience as a result. Or, in other words, if you really want to reap the benefits? It needs to extend past Thanksgiving—and work its way into your regular routine.
If you don’t have a regular gratitude practice, Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to start. Use the holiday as a jumping off point for establishing a more regular gratitude practice. For example, you might start your Thanksgiving by jotting down three things you’re grateful for—and then make a commitment to do the same thing each morning through the New Year (or beyond!).
The longer and more consistently you practice gratitude, the happier and healthier you’ll be—so this Thanksgiving, make a commitment to yourself to make gratitude a regular part of your routine.
Start a gratitude chain
Practicing gratitude yourself can have a major impact on your health and happiness. But why stop there? Why not encourage your friends, family, and loved ones to practice gratitude—and reap all the health and happiness-boosting benefits in the process?
This Thanksgiving, consider starting a “gratitude chain”—and spreading the benefits of a gratitude practice throughout your network. For example, you might text friends or family members one thing you’re grateful for this Thanksgiving, and encourage them to keep the chain going by texting something they’re grateful for to their friends or family members. Or, if you want to keep things going past Thanksgiving, you might start a text chain with a few loved ones, and have a check-in each week where you each share something you’re feeling particularly grateful for.
The point is, a gratitude practice will make you a happier and healthier person—but it will make you and your loved ones happier and healthier when you share that practice.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.