Thanksgiving Dinner

With the traditional Thanksgiving holiday approaching this weekend in Canada, and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States, it’s time to think about why giving thanks matters and why it’s good for us to be thankful for what we’ve got.

In the crazy, funny world of Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be king!”  While not all of us can become kings (or queens), try as we may, we can become grateful. Many cultures embrace the celebration of harvest time as an opportunity to be grateful for our “lot.”  It’s a tradition that goes back thousands of years; to the ancient Romans, who celebrated Cerelia and the ancient Greeks, who honoured Demeter, the goddess of grain, as well as the Jews, who to this day, annually celebrate the festival of Sukkot, an agricultural festival that was originally considered as a thanksgiving for the fruit harvest.

Why is it that so many ancient cultures have celebrated such an expression of gratitude? Well, the answer may be because it’s good for you.  Robert A. Emmons, PhD and professor of psychology at the University of California is a director of the university’s Emmons Lab, which explores the potential effects of gratitude on human health and well-being. Professor Emmons, says that gratitude has a positive impact on humans and he calls it, “the forgotten factor in the science of well-being.”

His studies, among others, have identified the following reasons that being grateful is beneficial:

Improved Health—research proves that counting your blessings is a boost to your health. It lowers blood pressure, increases feelings of optimism, reduces depression and contributes to more energy.

Hinders Stress—we know that stress can be damaging to our immune systems.  This is because “Cortisol”, often called the “stress hormone,” ramps up production when we are stressed, depleting the immune system and raising blood sugar levels.  However, positive emotions like appreciation put the brakes on Cortisol production and significantly lower its levels in our bodies.

Slows Down Aging—Research by Emmons and McCullough found that a daily practice of gratitude slowed down the effects of neurodegeneration that often occurs as we age.

Improves Relationships—Most of us who have been around people who are unappreciative understand how this behaviour pushes people away.  However, gratitude can lead to better relationships.  Psychologists say that gratitude may be connected to increased production of “oxytocin,” a hormone that fosters calm and security in relationships, which is why it is sometimes called the “bonding hormone.”

So, for this year’s Thanksgiving holiday, why not jot down some of the things that you feel grateful for in your life?  Or, even better, start a daily journal that lists all the blessings you encounter on a daily basis.  It’s a proven mood and health booster!