Gratitude Is Good For You

Thanksgiving is the holiday that enshrines one of our least explored emotions — gratitude.

Countless songs celebrate romance and the anguish of unrequited love. Poems elevate all the longings of the heart. But thankfulness is rarely the topic of poetry outside of the occasional Hallmark card or elementary school assignments for Mother's Day.

There are practical aspects to feeling thankful, particularly now. The region has been through three huge storms in a little over a year. It's given nearly everyone a newfound appreciation for warmth, lights, a hot bath and a good meal. All the more reason to extend help and a seat at the table to those who are still recovering from superstorm Sandy or for whom financial ease is still an elusive goal.

Another gift of late November: The elections are over. Candidates no longer assail phone lines, airwaves, the postal service. Yes, it is a blessing to live in a democracy in which our representatives gain office through ballots rather than guns. But the din of electoral politics became overwhelming at times this year. Silence is appreciated.

Of course, gratefulness is not merely the civilized, courteous habit of saying "thank you." It is an attitude rooted in a sense of unearned grace. Feeling grateful, no matter what the circumstances, makes all of life seem that much better. More than an emotion, thankfulness is a habit, a learned and practiced viewpoint, that enriches compassion, deepens kindness and brings out the best in humans.

Science is coming around to the power of giving thanks, long the purview of theologians. A 2010 article on the topic in Clinical Psychology gave an overview of 20 studies on gratitude. They found strong evidence that a sense of gratitude improves life.

A 2003 study asserts that a higher level of thankfulness is associated with a lower risk of major depression, anxiety, phobia or drug abuse. Gratitude has been shown to improve body image and lower risk of eating disorders. A 2005 study showed that people who had been through recent trauma recovered more quickly when they kept a diary recording what they were thankful for.

Healing is faster and life is enhanced with a certain amount of thanks, even when given for an utterly ordinary day.

So enjoy this day. And remember: Gratitude is good for you.

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