It’s only Thanksgiving Day, but for many, that can mean only one thing: the day before Black Friday.
The day after Thanksgiving — or even starting later this afternoon — can be a day of frenzied bargain-hunting. We should all try to keep the stress in check by remembering there are still 33 more shopping days until Christmas -- counting today. The old saying, “’Tis better to give than to receive” still holds, but not at the expense of a migraine and an overdrawn bank account on the very first day of the shopping season. Especially at the holidays, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many ways to discover the joy of an emotional connection with another human being, including the simple act of saying thanks.
Lately, gratitude has grown up beyond our national day of Thanksgiving. It’s the subject of its own branch of psychological research and is being studied — as well as practiced — on college campuses across the nation. Counting our blessings and expressing gratitude for them, it seems, is not only a desirable virtue, but an essential element of wholeness and well-being.
There’s even a website devoted to the movement, www.gratefulness.org. Participants from 186 countries use the site to make gratitude a more conscious daily attitude, while others are keeping gratitude journals and diaries.
Cognitive psychologists have studied the effects of expressing gratitude and found unexpected benefits, including sleeping better, feeling more connected to others and making progress toward important personal goals. There is also less illness and higher energy levels than in control groups, and the benefits can start at a very early age.
On college campuses, some professors have assigned students to search out friends and acquaintances to whom they can express gratitude, even if only for everyday kindnesses. Many report that tears come to the eyes of the recipients, so unaccustomed are we in a culture of criticism to having our strengths as human beings acknowledged and appreciated.
The result, say researchers, is greater two-way empathy that often inspires those giving thanks to perform their own act of charity that will earn them an expression of gratitude. Thinking of what you have to be grateful for helps to focus on the needs of others, not yourself.
So as we begin the shopping countdown to Christmas, let’s remember that how we receive and acknowledge our gifts can be as important as what we give. Gratitude, like giving, should come from the heart. That way, it’s priceless.