During the holiday season friends and family will gather around a table full of food to celebrate together, OR NOT, depending on your pandemic frame of mind! With Thanksgiving just behind us and Christmas just ahead, even in this hard year there are many things we can be thankful for. At our Thanksgiving table we always take some time to ask each person to say what they are thankful for which, of course, puts everyone on the spot, and no one likes it very much. Yet there are more good reasons to speak up than you might think. In the old hymn Count Your Blessings, the author writes, “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” According to some recent studies, Jonathan Oatman, Jr. was on to something when he wrote that hymn in 1897 because feeling thankful is a good thing, and putting that gratitude into words and expressing it to others has some deeper benefits.
In a study conducted by the Psychology Dept. at the University of California, researchers examined how, literally counting your blessings impacts your overall well-being. Participants were divided into three groups and asked to do one of the following:
- Journal about negative events or hassles,
- Write about the things for which they were grateful
- Write about neutral or normal life events
The sample that journaled about their gratitude showed much higher levels of “well-being” across the board in comparison with the other two study groups. The major takeaway, according to researchers, was that “consciously focusing on blessings may have major emotional and interpersonal benefits.” In other words, putting a voice to your gratitude is just plain good for you!
In a 2014 article in Forbes called Seven Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude, Amy Moran, who reviewed several studies at the time, found that gratitude may actually improve your health. “Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains, and they report feeling healthier than other people”, the author states in the article. Furthermore, a study published in Personality and Individual Differences found that grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. “They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.” In addition, gratitude improves psychological health, enhances empathy and reduces aggression (and our society could sure use that right now). Finally, according to a study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being – grateful people even sleep better. This study found that taking a few minutes to write down things one is thankful for before bed, can actually improve sleep.
This isn’t all new, of course. Our bookshelves are full of books on being grateful and looking at things from a positive perspective . Men like Tony Robbins and Stephen Covey have made lucrative careers out of reminding us of the benefits of positivity and gratitude. Likewise, in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians he reminds them in chapter 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” NIV
And in Proverbs 15:8 King Solomon reminds us – “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.
If stopping to be thankful or to “count our blessings” comes with major, positive changes in our emotions and outlook – we should make this a daily event instead of an annual one!
As we finish 2020 with the hope of an effective vaccine and putting this pandemic behind us – maybe we can find more things to be thankful for.
So as you gather with friends and family this holiday season why not take a moment to count and name your blessings and set a new pattern to “count them one by one” every day.
This could become your greatest gift to yourself and others in the coming year!
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