Overlooked Health Benefits of Thanksgiving

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Before you dive head first into the gravy bowl, make time this Thanksgiving to go around the dinner table and talk about what you’re thankful for. Then, keep it up—practicing gratitude on a regular basis has some amazing benefits to your physical and mental health.

You’ll feel healthier.

In a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers gave a group of college undergraduates an exercise, asking some to write down five events that occurred in the past week, others to write down five things that annoyed them in the past week, and others to write down five things they were grateful for in the past week. Comparing that data to questionnaires the students completed before, during, and after the experiment, the researchers found that the group that listed what they were grateful for had fewer health complaints and exercised more regularly.

You’ll feel more optimistic.

Feeling grateful for events in the past week is linked to feeling more optimistic about what’s to come, the same research found. Those who kept gratitude lists also felt better about their lives as a whole.

It’ll help you reach your goals.

Literally counting your blessings? Research also found that those who keep gratitude lists are more likely to make progress toward academic, interpersonal, and health goals over a two-month period.

It’ll improve your relationship.

Those who express their gratitude for the “little things” their partner does report greater relationship satisfaction…and their partners benefit too, feeling more connected and more satisfied in their relationship.

You’ll be inspired to be more generous. 

Feeling grateful makes you more likely to pay it forward. In one study, researchers sabotaged a student’s computer and arranged for another student to fix it. Afterward, the student whose computer was fixed was more likely to help a complete stranger with an unrelated task (an important difference from feeling indebted to return the favor for the student who helped fix the computer). People who are grateful also report offering emotional support to others more often.

You’ll sleep better. 

In a 2008 study of over 400 people found a strong link between gratitude and a good night’s sleep, with grateful people enjoying better sleep quality, less tiredness during the day, the ability to fall asleep faster, and a more normalized sleep duration. Other research found that just 15 minutes of writing in a gratitude journal can help you worry less at bedtime and sleep longer and better.

It helps children, too. 

It’s not just adults who benefit from keeping a gratitude list—when children write down what they’re grateful for, they report greater satisfaction with school three weeks later compared to others (especially the kids who focused on daily annoyances instead). That’s promising for researchers, considering the link between contentment at school and academic performance, and the correlation between dissatisfaction at school and drinking and drug use. Grateful students also self-report higher grades, more life satisfaction, better social integration, and less envy and depression than their less-thankful peers.

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