“Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Several other places around the world observe similar celebrations. It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States and on the second Monday of October in Canada. Thanksgiving has its historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, and has long been celebrated in a secular manner as well.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgiving
It does not make much sense for Australians to celebrate Thanksgiving in November, seeing that we are moving into Summer and still a long way off harvesting. My apple tree in the back yard has just finished flowering and is starting to show the tiny apples that will not be ready to eat for quite a few months yet. Despite this fact, I feel it is important for everyone to look at the effects of this holiday.
Thanksgiving is really a celebration of gratitude, which is in my opinion the most important mindset we can cultivate for our own wellbeing and happiness. This opinion was formed by my own experiences in life and seeing the differences it has made for me cultivating gratitude on a daily basis. Further research has only confirmed to me that this is just the beginning of the effects it has, as you can see in the following excerpt from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratitude):
“Association with well-being
A large body of recent work has suggested that people who are more grateful have higher levels of subjective well-being. Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships Specifically, in terms of depression, gratitude may serve as a buffer by enhancing the coding and retrievability of positive experiences.  Grateful people also have higher levels of control of their environments, personal growth, purpose in life, and self acceptance. Grateful people have more positive ways of coping with the difficulties they experience in life, being more likely to seek support from other people, reinterpret and grow from the experience, and spend more time planning how to deal with the problem. Grateful people also have less negative coping strategies, being less likely to try to avoid the problem, deny there is a problem, blame themselves, or cope through substance use. Grateful people sleep better, and this seems to be because they think less negative and more positive thoughts just before going to sleep.
Gratitude has been said[by whom?] to have one of the strongest links with mental health of any character trait. Numerous studies suggest that grateful people are more likely to have higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress and depression.
While many emotions and personality traits are important to well-being, there is evidence that gratitude may be uniquely important. First, a longitudinal study showed that people who were more grateful coped better with a life transition. Specifically, people who were more grateful before the transition were less stressed, less depressed, and more satisfied with their relationships three months later. Second, two recent studies have suggested that gratitude may have a unique relationship with well-being, and can explain aspects of well-being that other personality traits cannot. Both studies showed that gratitude was able to explain more well-being than the Big Five and 30 of the most commonly studied personality traits.
Relationship to altruism
Gratitude has also been shown to improve a person’s altruistic tendencies. One study conducted by David DeSteno and Monica Bartlett (2010) found that gratitude is correlated with economic generosity. In this study, using an economic game, increased gratitude was shown to directly mediate increased monetary giving. From these results, this study shows that grateful people are more likely to sacrifice individual gains for communal profit (DeSteno & Bartlett, 2010). A Study conducted by McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, (2002) found similar correlations between gratitude and empathy, generosity, and helpfulness.
Given that gratitude appears to be a strong determinant of people’s well-being, several psychological interventions have been developed to increase gratitude. For example, Watkins and colleagues had participants test a number of different gratitude exercises, such as thinking about a living person for whom they are grateful, writing about someone for whom they are grateful, and writing a letter to deliver to someone for whom they are grateful. Participants in the control condition were asked to describe their living room. Participants who engaged in a gratitude exercise showed increases in their experiences of positive emotion immediately after the exercise, and this effect was strongest for participants who were asked to think about a person for whom they are grateful. Participants who had grateful personalities to begin with showed the greatest benefit from these gratitude exercises. In another study concerning gratitude, participants were randomly assigned to one of six therapeutic intervention conditions designed to improve the participants’ overall quality of life (Seligman et. all., 2005). Out of these conditions, it was found that the biggest short-term effects came from a “gratitude visit” where participants wrote and delivered a letter of gratitude to someone in their life. This condition showed a rise in happiness scores by 10 percent and a significant fall in depression scores, results which lasted up to one month after the visit. Out of the six conditions, the longest lasting effects were associated with the act of writing “gratitude journals” where participants were asked to write down three things they were grateful for every day. These participants’ happiness scores also increased and continued to increase each time they were tested periodically after the experiment. In fact, the greatest benefits were usually found to occur around six months after treatment began. This exercise was so successful that although participants were only asked to continue the journal for a week, many participants continued to keep the journal long after the study was over. Similar results have been found from studies conducted by Emmons and McCullough (2003) and Lyubomirsky et. all. (2005).See also gratitude journal.
Recently (2013), the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, has been offering awards for dissertation-level research projects with the greatest potential to advance the science and practice of gratitude.
According to Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Multiple studies have shown the correlation between gratitude and increased wellbeing not only for the individual but for all people involved. The positive psychology movement has embraced these studies and in an effort to increase overall wellbeing, has begun to make an effort to incorporate exercises to increase gratitude into the movement. Although in the past gratitude has been neglected by psychology, in recent years much progress has been made in studying gratitude and its positive effects.“
There you have it! Happy Thanksgiving! Start thinking about your coming New Years resolutions. Play the “Glad Game” daily (more on this in my first post: https://happypollyesther.com/2014/05/13/introduction-to-happy-pollyesther/) and your life and the lives of those around you will be better for it, not just today, but the whole year round!
Feel free to share your experiences with the “Glad Game” in the comments below.
With love and gratitude,