Thanksgiving is more than just an excuse to load up on a disgusting amount of meat and potatoes. Being thankful, according to a recent research, is actually good for your health and well being.
Over at the Wall Street Journal, Melinda Beck wrote about the growing number of studies revealing the positive effects of gratitude:
Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy, or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.
The same goes for children. Kids who feel grateful are less materialistic, more satisfied with their friends, do better in school and are generally healthier, Beck said.
“A lot of these findings are things we learned in kindergarten or our grandmothers told us,” said Jeffrey Froh, a psychology professor at Hostra University in Hempstead, New York, “but we now have scientific evidence to prove them.”
Recently, Froh conducted a survey of 1,035 high school students, and he found that the most grateful participants had more friends and better grades.
But isn’t this just a self-fulfilling theory? The kids with better GPAs and more friends would naturally have more of a reason to be grateful, right? Not necessarily.
A 2003 study from Robert Emmons of the University of California Davis and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami found that when people literally count their blessings, it makes them feel better. They randomly divided 100 undergrads into three groups. For ten weeks, one group listed five things they were thankful for, a second group listed five things that annoyed them, and a third group listed five things that happened—not necessarily negative or positive.
The people in the first group had better health, exercised more, and generally felt better about life. In 2008, Froh and Emmons conducted a similar study with middle school students, leading them to comparable conclusions.
However, too much gratitude can be a bad thing, Froh said:
Thanking someone in such a way that is disproportionate to the relationship—say, a student giving her teacher an iPod—will create resentment, guilt, anger and a sense of obligation.
So try not to go overboard when you’re giving thanks this Thursday. And try not to let Thanksgiving be the only day you show some gratitude. It’s good for you. Science says so.