For those of us in the US, the Thanksgiving Day holiday is just a couple weeks away. Millions are flying, driving, cleaning and cooking, all while trying to keep the wheels turning at work for another week or so.
The run-up to Thanksgiving is often busy, and for some it can feel overwhelming. The Google search term “holiday stress” is up 60% in the past seven days alone.
With that in mind, why in the world would we want to make Thanksgiving a habit?!
The Science of Gratitude
To be clear, I’m not advocating for making the run-up to Thanksgiving a habit, but the end result: the moment where we feel or express gratitude for all that we have. Because as good as it feels to be thankful once a year, research suggests benefits of being grateful, year-round.
Below are five key findings mentioned in a Harvard Medical School letter on mental health from 2011, which summarized scientific research that looked at links between gratitude and well-being:
- Happiness. In one study, participants were asked to write a few sentences each week about things that had occurred that they were grateful for, while others were asked to write about things that had displeased them, or just noteworthy events. The “grateful” writers ended up happier than the other groups. Other studies supported the link between gratitude and happiness.
- Physical Health. After ten weeks of the same weekly writing experiment, the “grateful” group were exercising more and visiting the doctor less than other groups. For organizations looking to boost productivity and reduce absenteeism and health care costs, this link between gratitude and physical wellbeing is worth a closer look.
- Optimism. The “grateful” group also showed higher levels of optimism than the other groups. In addition to the obvious benefits for individuals, optimism in managers has been linked with higher levels of project performance in teams. Managers and leaders, take note!
- Relationships. A study of couples found that individuals who expressed gratitude for their partner not only felt more positively about their partner, but were better able to express concerns about the relationship. The implication is that gratitude might help build a foundation for stronger, more productive relationships.
- Team Motivation. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School found university employees who received a “thank you” pep talk from their manager, made 50% more fundraising calls than those who did not.
Putting It into Practice
If gratitude is so great, why don’t we practice it more? For some, it doesn’t come naturally and needs to be learned. And even people who feel and express gratitude easily might miss opportunities to do so unless they make it a priority. Here are a few tips to build a habit of being more grateful:
If you’re thinking “thank you,” say it! We’ve all been there. In the midst of a busy day someone does something you’re profoundly grateful for, but you put off saying thank you. All too often, we never circle back around and the moment passes. If you find yourself thinking a grateful thought, just say something. It doesn’t need to be a big production – a simple thank you goes a long way.
Book time on your calendar. Try scheduling a few minutes each week, perhaps on a Friday, to look back on the week and think about what or who you’re grateful for. There may not always be a personal “thank you” that accompanies each thought. Part of the power of gratitude is simply being in a thankful state of mind.
Write it down. In the research highlighted earlier, participants who simply wrote a few sentences each week about what they were grateful for, experienced a number of ongoing benefits. If you jot down and save a few sentences a week, it won’t take long to build a valuable document to turn to for inspiration or direction when you hit bumps in the road.
This year, as you finish your Thanksgiving Day preparations and settle in to enjoy the food, football, parades and shopping, take a few moments to feel grateful for what you have, say thank you to those who come to mind, and consider doing this more than once a year. You’ll be grateful you did.