By Gigi Steel
The first Thanksgiving was held in 1621 by Pilgrims who had come to the New World to escape tyranny in England. At the time, they were accustomed to setting aside special days to give thanks: a good harvest, a military victory, the recovery of a sick child, or the end of a drought.
Setting aside a day to give thanks for their harvest in 1621 was nothing out of the ordinary. After this First Thanksgiving, the day was observed on and off until 1789, when President George Washington issued a proclamation of celebration.
President Thomas Jefferson then decided not to hold Thanksgiving celebrations. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln brought the celebration back proclaiming; “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be held on the last Thursday of each November.
Finally in 1942, Thanksgiving Day received a permanent observation date independent of the inclination of the current President. We can glean a lesson from these first Americans; taking time to give thanks and express gratitude can improve our lives—both physically and emotionally.
From a physical standpoint, gratitude can lower blood pressure, improve our immune system, reduce the effects of an aging brain, improve sleep quality, and lower stress hormones. It’s been shown that grateful people have more motivation for self-care. They exercise, eat healthy, and are less likely to smoke or abuse drugs. Gratitude works because positive feelings have a direct effect on our body.
Emotionally, gratitude can help us manage stress and be more optimistic—which also helps our immune system. Gratitude can change our perception of happiness. Consistently grateful people are typically happier, more energetic, hopeful, empathic, spiritual, forgiving, and less materialistic.
They are less likely to be depressed or lonely—loneliness can double the risks of heart disease. Depression is a significant risk factor for sickness. Gratefulness can lessen feelings of anger, bitterness, and greed. Gratitude can have a calming effect on our emotional state of mind. It can improve our willpower so that we make better decisions.
Although not everyone was fortunate to be born with a propensity for gratitude, we can change our mindset by using intention. The best way to do this is by practicing gratitude. Begin by simply saying thank you. These two little words can make a big difference.
Remember to say thank you to the cashier, your yoga teacher, your partner, and everyone else you come in contact with. Feeling appreciated changes the way we feel—and it works both ways. Gratitude sends positive energy to the receiver—and also stays with the giver.
Employers who take the time to say thank you find that their employees are motivated to work harder and submit higher quality work.
Learning to appreciate and be grateful for what you have, rather than what you don’t have, is an important element of gratitude. Comparing yourself to others will take you down a dark path. There is always someone who has more, and someone who has less.
Turn these emotions into inspiration to work for what you want in life.
Gratitude can connect us to something larger than ourselves. When we acknowledge our thankfulness for one thing, we can recognize the supporting things that lead to that one thing. For example: say you are thankful for a pantry full of food.
Consider all that leads to that pantry: farms and farmers to grow food, truckers to take it to stores, stores. Then we have to acknowledge that we have cars and gas that take us to these stores. Then, money to buy the products, jobs to make money, and good health so we can work.
The circle of gratitude is not just about one thing. It is about everything we have to be thankful for.
Gratitude gives us lasting happiness rather than instant gratification. Here are five simple ways to practice gratitude.
Say thank you
Smile—smiles are contagious
Write a thank you note
Count your blessings and reflect on what you have