While Turkey Day is an appropriate nickname, Thanksgiving got its name for a reason. As the year nears its end, taking a day to ponder the things to be grateful for may actually have some surprising benefits.
Cary Boone Jones, senior director of Career Services and Student Employment, believes in the power of gratitude. Also an adjunct professor in the behavioral sciences, she takes time in her positive psychology classes to focus on why being grateful is more than a nice sentiment for the holidays.
“I used to think the benefits [of gratitude] were solely for the people you were appreciative of, such as helping them feel good about some things that they had done for you,” said Jones. “Now I realize the benefits to us personally are very great as well.”
Those benefits are actually quite significant – people who feel and express gratitude have been found to be happier, more energetic and more hopeful. They also are more inclined to be helpful and forgiving. They have fewer physical pains and illnesses as well.
“When we focus on the things that we have, we are happier than when we focus on the things we don’t have,” explained Jones. “All of their research shows that the people that are grateful are the people who are happy.”
Everyone has challenges that are out of their control: a lost job, an illness or even the weather. Those things do have a real influence on the quality of life, but there are still things that can be done.
“Some people don’t realize how external factors influence their lives,” said Jones. “When we finally realize that… we can change our lives.”
She explained that in January, she decided to quit listening to talk radio. The result? “I had more time to be grateful.”
She suggests letting people know how you feel about their influence on your life, both in writing and in person, as a beneficial way to boost gratitude. Students also have their own ideas of how to show gratitude through action.
“One way would be to repay the favor,” said David Christiansen, a senior studying technology management. He said that when someone does something nice, he makes a point to return an act of kindness in the future.
“There [are] so many times when people do something for you [and] you never get to say thanks directly to them,” said Josh Pappas, a junior and exercise science major. He said he tries to “pay it forward” when he can’t pay it back. This is a way to honor and remember the goodness that others have shown.
“I think it’s important to feel this feeling more than once a year … It’s important for others and for our happiness to express this throughout the year,” Jones said. “It will help our relationships; it will help our perspective on life.”