November 27, 2022
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Jan Risher: Benefits of gratitude extend beyond season | Entertainment/Life

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Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. I appreciate its inclusivity, its celebration of bounty, the opportunity to spend hours at the table with loved ones with the underlying current being a focus on giving thanks. 

Thursday will be the first year we won’t be hosting a Thanksgiving meal in decades. The reason is a strange one and requires some explanation. Back in March, shortly after I had broken my leg and couldn’t walk, we moved from our much-loved home of nearly 20 years to a new home in a new city. On our second night in the new house, I was the opposite of Thanksgiving. 

Truth be told, I was feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t walk or navigate around all the boxes, bits and bags in our new home. I couldn’t find anything in the disarray that was my life and home, and I wasn’t sure how or when things were going to get better. 

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that difficult moments aren’t permanent. We would get our house and lives together. I would locate all the necessities — and I would walk again. 

Even still, I knew that having something fun to anticipate would lift my spirits. With my exhausted husband nearly asleep beside me, I started looking on my phone for the trip I had been considering for months. We had talked about it several times, but so much was up in the air that we didn’t think booking a major trip was the thing to do.

My hesitation was over. In minutes, I had booked that trip and told my quasi-awake husband that we were going to Istanbul and Greece in November. He mumbled, “Sounds good.”

I wasn’t sure what 2022 would bring, but I knew I needed something fun to focus on. My strategy worked. Bright things on the horizon help. My favorite bright things are travel and adventure.

The only glitch that arose from my quickly booked trip came when I realized, a few days later, that our travels had us missing Thanksgiving Day with friends and family. So, we’ll celebrate a couple of days late. I’m using the opportunity as a reminder that giving thanks is not about a day. It’s a mindset.

A growing body of research shows that gratitude helps us in many ways — emotionally and even physically. I’ve been following the research of Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, for the past decade. He’s a leading expert on gratitude and defines gratitude as having two parts.

Emmons says the first part of gratitude is what he calls “an affirmation of goodness” — basically by paying attention to their lives and focusing on gratitude, people can notice the blessings and good things around them. Emmons says the second part of gratitude is more external and comes in recognizing that the source of this goodness rests outside of oneself. We receive gifts from others or from a higher power, fate or the natural world.

The benefits of gratitude are plenty, according to research compiled by “Psychology Today.” Gratitude can help build better relationships, help improve physical health, improve psychological health, enhance empathy, reduce aggression, improve sleep, improve self-esteem and increase mental strength. 

“In the history of ideas, gratitude has had surprisingly few detractors,” Giacomo Bono, Emmons and Michael McCullough write in their research. “It is virtuously pleasant because experiencing it not only uplifts the person who experiences it but also edifies the person to whom it is directed. But the fact that people typically consider gratitude a virtue and not simply a pleasure also points to the fact that it does not always come naturally or easily. Gratitude must, and can, be cultivated. And by cultivating the virtue, it appears that people may get the pleasure of gratitude, and all of its other attendant benefits, thrown in for free.”





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