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Thanksgiving: The Scientifically Proven Power of Gratitude

Our forefathers who first celebrated Thanksgiving hundreds of years ago didn’t need scientists to tell them that giving thanks is important.

However, recent research on gratitude helps us better understand and utilize the power of giving thanks. According to Berkeley University, people who practice gratitude consistently experienced many benefits including: 

  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
  • Higher levels of positive emotions;
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness;
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion;
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated.

Below are some other scientifically proven benefits that people enjoy when they practice gratitude:

1. Saying thanks – win friends and influence people — Saying thank you is not only polite but, according to a 2104 study published in Emotion, it can help you make friends. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to want to be your friend, especially if it’s a sincere thanks. Acknowledging other people’s contributions with a gesture of thanks can also lead to new opportunities.

2. Gratitude improves physical health — Grateful people suffer less aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health, which leads further health benefits.

3. Gratitude leads to happiness — Developing an attitude of gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret, which leaves more room for positive emotions like happiness. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies confirming that gratitude substantially increases happiness and reduces depression.

4. Give thanks; sleep better — Since worry is a major cause of insomnia, it’s no surprise that a 2011 study published inApplied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, found that spending just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed will help you sleep better and longer. Giving thanks for just a few minutes is likely to help, too.

5. Gratitude improves self-esteem — A 2014 study published in theJournal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude helps people appreciate other people’s accomplishments rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs – which is a major factor in reduced self-esteem. Therefore, developing an attitude of gratitude helps us experience more sympathetic joy and less stress from trying to keep up with the “Joneses.”

6. Giving thanks helps overcome trauma — Almost everyone will suffer some form of trauma at least once in their life. For example, almost everyone will be in at least one car accident in their lifetime. Fortunately, gratitude can play a major role in overcoming trauma.  A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.

Gratitude Exercise

Every day, preferably at about the same time, write down three things you’re thankful for and why. If you don’t want to write, try saying what you’re thankful for to a friend or family member you trust. Try this for 7 days and notice any differences in your life. Continue the practice indefinitely for increased benefits.

My extended family started doing this exercise after meals about five years ago. The quality of our meals and time together has increased dramatically. Our meals are less stressful now, and our relationships are better. I hope you and your family experiences similar benefits from a gratitude practice.




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