As our country celebrates Thanksgiving, this is the perfect time for each of us to give thanks for the many wonderful people in our lives.
I’m an ardent fan of a quote by Marcel Proust that sums up my thinking:
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
I’ve always been a fan of giving thanks. I raised my children to give thanks to others for whatever gifts or help they received, bolstering my words by reading and re-reading to them Richard Scarry’s “The Please and Thank You Book.”
But guess what. Not everyone agrees with that sentiment. These nay-sayers prefer to ignore the concept of gratitude. They reject the idea of thanking others for anything, including any and all attempts to make them happy.
Recent research confirms my point of view.
According to a story in The New York Times earlier this year, new research revealed that people really like getting thank-you notes. Two psychologists wanted to find out why so few people actually send these notes. The 100 or so participants in their study were asked to write a short “gratitude letter” to someone who had helped them in some way. It took most subjects less than five minutes to write these notes.
Although the notes’ senders typically guessed that their notes would evoke nothing more than 3 out of 5 on a happiness rating, the result was very different. After receiving the thank-you notes, the recipients told them how happy they were to get them: many said they were “ecstatic,” scoring 4 out of 5 on the happiness rating.
Conclusion? People tend to undervalue the positive effect they can have on others, even with a tiny investment of time. The study was published in June 2018 in the journal Psychological Science.
A vast amount of psychological research affirms the value of gratitude.
I’ll begin with its positive effect on physical health. According to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people.
Gratitude also improves psychological health, reducing a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. A leading gratitude researcher, Robert Emmons, has conducted a number of studies on the link between gratitude and well-being, confirming that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.
Other positive benefits: gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression (a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky), it improves sleep (a 2011 study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being), and it improves self-esteem (a 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology). The list goes on and on.
So, during this Thanksgiving week, let’s keep in mind the host of studies that have demonstrated the enormously positive role gratitude plays in our daily lives.
It’s true that some of us are luckier than others, leading lives that are filled with what might be called “blessings” while others have less to be grateful for.
For those of us who have much to be thankful for, let’s be especially grateful for all of the “charming gardeners who make our souls blossom,” those who bring happiness to our remarkably fortunate lives.
And let’s work towards a day when the less fortunate in our world can join us in our much more gratitude-worthy place on this planet.