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Monday, November 8, 2010

Thanksgiving is Good for Your Mental Health

As a psychologist dedicated to helping others achieve their goals for joy and satisfaction, I have come to believe that Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year. Spiritual leaders and philosophers have long taught the importance of gratitude in the development of contentment, enlightenment and achievement. In recent years the psychological profession has confirmed and validated these century old teachings with research.

R.A. Emmons and M.E. McCullough have engaged in a research project to investigate the nature of gratitude and its consequences for human health and well-being. While the research is ongoing, several publications are available that confirm the importance of gratitude in a variety of areas of life. This research has found that individuals who daily reflect on positives and thankfulness report higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy. These individuals also report fewer health problems, are more optimistic, and are more likely to make progress toward goals.

Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction and lower levels of depression and stress. While grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life, they are found to focus on positives in their lives rather than becoming “stuck” in a negative perspective. Thankful people demonstrate a higher capacity for empathy and are rated by others as more generous and helpful. Gratefulness is also related to placing less importance on material wealth because these individuals are less likely to judge their own and others success by possessions, are less envious, and are more likely to share with others.

Gratefulness is a key to happiness. Even when not a natural part of a personality, it is possible to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness. Strive to be aware of all in your personal, professional, and family life (whether good health, relationships, freedom, or possessions) for which you are thankful. Focus on what you have – not on what you don’t have. Be mindful of nature and the beauty around you. Seek out others who have the characteristics you want for yourself. Moods and attitudes are contagious and spending time with complaining, negative and angry people will impair your ability to achieve your goal of positive focus and gratitude. Conversely, when you are demonstrating a positive and joyful life, you are helping those around you cultivate gratitude.

It is important to tell others often how they are appreciated and the blessings they bring to your life. Say “thank you” not in a perfunctory or obligatory manner but with heartfeltness and sincerity. Let others know how they touch your life, how much they help you and how appreciated they are.

Oprah Winfrey and Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance propose keeping a “thankfulness journal” where each day you record five things about the day for which you are grateful. This is a simple but brilliant assignment. If you commit to this task you will find yourself more aware of the positives in each day because you will be looking for them. Too often, negatives have so much more power to get and keep our attention, and by encouraging a shift in focus to the many things in your life that make each day special, you will be practicing thankfulness.

As you celebrate this 2010 Thanksgiving, I encourage you commit to live with gratitude each day of the year. Thankfulness is good for your mental health and will enhance the life of your family and those around you. Thank you for sharing your time with me by reading this article. I appreciate any thoughts you would like to share with me.

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