Today, my American friends will come together for a Thanksgiving meal, a tradition that dates all the way back to the 1600s, when the pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans sat together in Plymouth (modern-day Massachusetts) and gave thanks for their blessings over a feast. In 1789, President George Washington declared that the whole nation would celebrate Thanksgiving, ‘a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God’. To this day, that remains the symbolism at the heart of the holiday.
Whether or not you are American, today is a very good day to be thankful.
The practice of gratitude – of being grateful for what we have in life – has long been of interest to those wishing to lead a meaningful and happy life. Most world religions value gratefulness and encourage prayers of thanks. Most parents teach their children to say ‘thank you’.
‘Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of all of the others,’ said the Roman philosopher Cicero. If we are grateful, all else can fall into place. Certainly, that has been the message in recent years from psychologists studying gratitude. Practising gratitude, they suggest, creates a foundation for wellbeing. A review of various research studies into gratitude concluded:
Gratitude is consistently showed to be significantly associated with greater happiness… Why? Well, for starters, gratitude increases experiences of positive emotions and it also helps people to take pleasure from positive experiences. Furthermore, gratitude is associated with better physical health which is a contributing factor to happiness… Gratitude also helps people cope with adversity and to develop and maintain strong relationships.
But we do not only practise gratitude for personal gain, of course. Indeed, to do so would be to miss the point entirely. Gratitude is about connecting with others. As Harvard Medical School puts it:
With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, being grateful also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
When we practise gratitude, we freely give appreciation. Because we are grateful for what we have, we have so much to give, without desperately needing gratitude in response (though we may well receive it).
We can all give thanks for the many blessings we have in life, even when life feels far from perfect. And we can all reach out to others and say ‘thank you’.
Today, I want to thank you, dear reader. For reading this article. For reading one of my novels, perhaps. For walking with me on my writing journey. ‘Appreciation is a wonderful thing,’ wrote Voltaire. ‘It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.’ My writing belongs to you, too.
And on that note: watch this space for a BIG giveaway competition coming next week on my blog which will be open to all my readers. I’d love to treat you to a gift to say thank you.