Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.
It’s totally inclusive. Gifts are not obligatory. It’s just about togetherness, gratitude and a shared meal.
Every year on fourth Thursday in November, our family invites a variety of people to join us at our Thanksgiving table. Many of them come from other places and don’t have family nearby. In my experience, something about being far away from loved ones tends to make people even more grateful.
This year, if my Thanksgiving guests are up for it, I’d like to try a little gratitude experiment that I saw on a website called SoulPancake. The experiment goes like this:
So, if you’re making an appearance at my house on Thanksgiving. Stop reading here. Don’t spoil the surprise.
I’ll ask my guests to close their eyes and think about a person who has had an incredible positive impact in their lives. “With your eyes closed, sit back for a bit, thinking on that person and what he or shy did for you and specific times or instances for which you’re grateful,” I’ll say.
Then, I’ll give them each a piece of paper and ask them to write about the person and experiences they just remembered.
The rest of the SoulPancake experiment is based on University of California psychologist Robert Emmons’ research. Emmons has made studying the science of gratitude his life’s work. He has research to prove that gratitude not only makes people happier, it also leads to better health and a stronger connection to others. Emmons believes practicing gratitude has transformative effects on a person’s social and emotional well being.
While focusing on gratitude is good and helps people feel better, sharing that gratitude takes the good vibes to a whole different level. After my guests have written their pieces, we’ll get out a telephone and encourage each of them to call the person he or she has written about and read what they’ve written.
According to Emmons’ research, practicing gratitude is what it’s all about. So we’ll do our best on Thanksgiving Day, but Emmons says applying the same kind of focus to gratitude the other 364 days of the year has its advantages as well.
He recommends keeping a gratitude journal. He says any practice that helps us develop more grateful thinking also counteracts boredom and apathy — and living from a grateful place is just a better way to experience life.
According to Emmons’ anecdotal research, another idea to launch on Thanksgiving, especially for families with younger children, is what I’m calling Jar of Bounty. Families express their gratitude and in doing so, place a coin or two in a labeled gratitude jar. When the jar is full, they count the money and give it to a specific cause. Feeling grateful is one thing. Sharing gratitude and giving to others is a whole different thing.
In fact, Mother Theresa spoke of the gratitude she felt toward the people she served for allowing her the opportunity to serve others.
If you’re a data geek, you’ll appreciate knowing that in the Soul Pancake experiment, those who took the time to write something down, but chose not to share it by phone, saw happiness increase from 2 to 4 percent. Those who wrote the piece, picked up the phone and shared their gratitude saw happiness increase between 4 and 19 percent. The person who experienced the biggest jump in happiness was the least happy person who walked in the door.
And the moral of this story is, when you’re feeling a little low or if you just want to feel better, find reasons to be grateful — and share that gratitude.