Thanksgiving can be a wonderful time spent with family and friends, enjoying good food and good company. It’s steeped in tradition and stretches the weekend into four glorious days.
But that’s not all there is to love about Thanksgiving, our national holiday for celebrating the harvest and giving thanks. The spirit of gratitude that underlies Thanksgiving just happens to be good for our mental and physical health as well.
Origins of Thanksgiving
While many states held an annual thanksgiving holiday in the early 1800s, it was a 36-year campaign by Sarah Josepha Hale that brought us the national holiday we know today.
Says History.com, “In 1827, the noted magazine editor and prolific writer Sarah Josepha Hale (author, among countless other things, of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, she published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents, and other politicians, earning her the nickname the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”
“Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, when he established the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving.”
Psychological benefits of giving thanks
Research at Harvard University notes that adopting an attitude of gratitude is associated with greater happiness. Research on the psychology of thanksgiving shows that being grateful helps us:
1) feel more positive emotions 2) relish good experiences 3) improve our health 4) deal with adversity 5) build strong relationships
So taking the time to reflect and give thanks elevates our mood, helping both our mental health and contributing to better physical health.
Health benefits of gratitude
Amy Morin, writing for Psychology Today, identifies seven scientifically-proven benefits of giving thanks.
1) Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. 2) Gratitude improves physical health. 3) Gratitude improves psychological health. 4) Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. 5) Grateful people sleep better. 6) Gratitude improves self-esteem. 7) Gratitude increases mental strength.
Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.
As we head into Thanksgiving week, try to spend a little time noticing the things you have to be grateful for.
Help your kids recognize all that they have to be thankful for as you prepare for the holiday. Then go enjoy your day – or your long weekend – with friends and family. Give thanks and welcome the benefits of an attitude of gratitude.
Happy Thanksgiving from the Parenting Success Network!