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Thanksgiving is Actually Healthy for You: The Benefits of Gratitude


20Nov 2006

With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, there are numerous columns and articles discussing various aspects of the holiday. I would like to take the opportunity to bring attention to the overall benefits to our lives of having a thankful attitude.

In his bestselling book, What Happy Know, Dr. Dan Baker (who is the director of the well-known treatment program at Canyon Ranch in Arizona) states that appreciation is the single most important tool in developing an enjoyable life. Additionally, social scientists who have studied the impact of stress on our lives cite a mental attitude of thankfulness as one of the best ways to manage stress.

One of the psychological phenomena I have observed over the years is the issue of comparison. We tend to compare ourselves and the state of our lives to those around us. And our sense of satisfaction often is based on our relative status (our income, size of our home, type of car we drive, where we take vacations) in comparison to our peer group. What is key in the whole process of comparison is: to whom do we compare ourselves? The interesting factor I have noted is that, for whatever reason, most people tend to compare their live situation to those individuals who are just a little better off than we are. Rarely do we really compare ourselves to those whose life circumstances are significantly better than ours. I didn’t wake up this morning concerned that my yacht is not as large as Larry Ellison’s (the founder of Oracle, he has a mammoth boat docked in Sausalito), or that my stable of polo horses aren’t as outstanding as Prince Charles’.

We also don’t tend to think about our daily lives in comparison to those who are significantly worse off than we are, the millions of AIDS orphans in Africa, the homeless poor who live in shacks in the barrios outside of Mexico City or Rio de Janeiro, or those individuals who are suffering with chronic pain.

I can’t explain this phenomenon, in either direction.

And this is part of the benefit and beauty of Thanksgiving, it is a touchstone in time that helps us to slow down, reflect on our lives, and actually see all of the blessings in our lives. For most of us who live in the United States, the following list is usually part of our daily lives:

*living without fear of physical harm due to war;
*having shelter from heat, cold, and the natural elements;

 

*having plenty of food to eat each day, for every meal we want;

*having medication to treat medical conditions and to ease our physical pain.

In contrast, of the 6 billion people in the world today, 3 billion live on $2/day or less and 2 billion live on $1/day. Hundreds of millions have no opportunity to own their own property (either legally or practically) which inhibits their ability to engage in economic activities to make their lives better (for a great discussion on this, see the book The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto).

The main point is this: It is good for each of us to stop and consider the goodness in our lives. Living in a thankful, appreciative way daily, hourly, moment by moment — can truly enhance the quality of our lives.

I would encourage each of us to use this holiday week of Thanksgiving to set aside some time, both individually and with our family and friends, and reflect on the blessings we have in our lives. And share those thoughts with others a positive approach to live can be contagious.

And if you are moved to some action of response, write out a check to an organization that helps those in the world who are less fortunate than we are (one of my favorites is Opportunity International, who helps the poorest of the poor in developing countries by giving them small loans to develop their own businesses).

I hope you have an enjoyable week, being thankful for all of the good things in your life.

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