The Benefits of Giving Thanks

Fountain pen writing the words Happy ThanksgivingAs many of us sit down to impressive feasts today, we’re undoubtedly thankful for the food on the table and the company that surrounds us. Our thoughts might peruse the events of the year – the many happy days enjoyed, the hard times weathered. Whatever the content of the year’s storyline, we made it intact and bring an attitude of gratitude for the chance to reflect, celebrate and share. There’s something to the mindset of the day. For those hours we see the upside. We focus on feeling fortunate – even abundant.

More than a particular holiday’s theme, gratitude can be a potently rich and beneficial lens we bring to life. When we appreciate what we have, we’re likely aware of the larger good around us, of the good that can come to us. If we’re on the habit of noticing – and celebrating – the favorable in our days, we’re likely ready and willing to anticipate and accept more of it into our lives. It’s interesting to me how it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy – of the positive kind. Likewise, it’s intriguing to see how the research supports this general idea as well. The more grateful we are for what we have, the happier more well-adjusted and even healthier we are.

In a study (PDF) that compared three groups, including one group that was asked to write about the “hassles” of their day, another group that was instructed to write down whatever they were grateful for that day, and finally a third group that journaled about neutral happenings in their day. Study conditions varied to measure outcomes when writings were weekly and daily. Those who wrote about their gratitude reported an overall higher sense of well-being across several measures than the other two groups.

It’s part of what researchers label “prosocial behavior,” those behaviors that support the implicit social contracts of human interaction and relationship building like displays of empathy, offering aid and support, etc. Other research has shown that being on the receiving end of a person’s gratitude can boost subjects’ sense of self-worth and/or self-efficacy. It also appears to encourage participants to further help the person who offered the gratitude but also another, unrelated person in an unconscious “pay it forward” kind of connection. The connection explains why grateful people are simply easier and more pleasant to be around. Think of it from an evolutionary standpoint: who would Grok have wanted in his tribe? Who would you want?

On a physical level, subjects who felt higher levels of gratitude exercised more and suffered less from illness in one study (PDF). Being grateful can even help us rest more easily at night – literally. In one study, participants with higher levels of gratitude reported better quality sleep and longer sleep duration. The researchers noted the importance of “pre-sleep cognitions” and their potential impact on sleep experience. (Think of that before bed each night….)

Of course, we’re not limited to saying thanks a single day each year, but today is a good day to start. Gratitude can work like a muscle. The more we exercise it, the stronger it gets – and the bigger benefit we feel from it. If it sounds too self-serving to put it that way, look at it as we do self-care. The more we take care of ourselves, the better able we are to care for others. Likewise, our gratitude offers a positive energy to those around us. It enhances our satisfaction in our relationships and encourages us to give back. We’re happier in our lives, less aggressive and resentful. Imagine how that contentment serves others (e.g. children, partners, coworkers, family and friends, community) in a myriad of ways.

Cultivating gratitude as a regular practice doesn’t have to be complicated. Doctors Randy and Lori Sansone in their analysis of the research on gratitude suggest everything from journaling to thank you notes or letters to meditating on gratitude. There’s something to sharing your gratitude, however. There’s something to offering it to the person you’re grateful for, and it won’t be just him/her that benefits. (Check out some inspiration here. A few of you might want tissues handy.)

Make gratitude a family affair and get the kids in on it. Ask them what the best part of their day was or keep a large jar with slips of paper next to it. Encourage everyone to write down what they’re grateful at least once a week. Not only will you be offering your kids a lesson in appreciation, you’ll be boosting their self-worth – and creating a meaningful way to celebrate Thanksgiving the following year when you can read these recorded gratitudes together.

What are you grateful for this year? What are you celebrating, and how has it changed you? Who or what has inspired you or sustained you lately? With my own gratitude to this amazing community and the enthusiasm, support and challenge it offers me, I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. Be well.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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20 thoughts on “The Benefits of Giving Thanks”

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    1. Agreed….life would be incomplete without some suffering. Not only does it make the good times better to appreciate but it can help fuel our fire to reach our goals.

  1. Mark, I would be remiss if I didn’t come here to specifically thank you for completely altering the course of my life this year. Thank you for being YOU, and the gift of sharing and teaching all of us that there is a much better way to live our lives.

    May God bless you this holiday and every day. You are a modern miracle worker, in my eyes. 🙂

  2. I too am grateful to Mark Sisson and for the Primal Blueprint. Yes, I enjoy greater health and all the other benefits the Success Stories speak of. But on a deeper level, I’m learning to connect with the people who are taking charge of their lives in ways that are meaningful and beneficial to me. It’s hard for me to explain clearly in a comment form, but I enjoy being part of this “tribe”. This isn’t just gratitude for some trinket given as a holiday gift. It’s a deeper, warmer gratitude for an opportunity to live a cleaner, clearer life. So — my thanks to all.

  3. I too am greatly grateful to Mark & this community– & a huge believer in daily gratitude. I’m a perfectionist by nature & tend to have anxiety attacks about things that aren’t just right, but being mindful of all the things that truly are wonderful in my life reels me in from those downward spirals beautifully.

  4. I give thanks to the best site on the web and to this modern tribe we have. Live long, drop dead.

  5. Being on the other side of the globe, “Thanksgiving” is not part of my culture but giving thanks should be part of our everyday life.
    Today, I have to give a speech on my life story as part of my leadership career development. I’ve been encouraged to be as open, honest, vulnerable and raw as I can muster. Phew. I’m going to talk about my journey from 98kg to 60kg (today). I’ve never really openly talked about it before, especially how I felt at my biggest.
    Anyway, I’m grateful for the amazing human body. It’s ability to heal, adapt, grow and strengthen. And grateful to all those who helped me along my journey to health either through information, encouragement or inspiration.
    Now to pay it forward.

  6. I am grateful to Mark, and to his web page, and to his book Primal Blueprint, and to the many, many contributors and comments in these pages.

    Before I found MDA, I had started on the wheat-free path but was feeling that I could do better. Once I went (mostly) Primal, I lost 30lbs in a few short months, and was then inspired to start exercising following Mark’s easy exercise program. Exercising used to be a very-long-four-letter-word to me, but found that I enjoyed it and I now attend Crossfit twice a week. I’ve also started taking Nutritional Therapy classes with a goal of changing careers.

    So – lots of changes inspired by coming to MDA. Thank you all!

  7. Very true – it’s proven that “counting your blessings” leads to increased happiness and it’s something I always do whenever I sense a bad mood coming. But I should start doing it every day before going to bed.

    Man, Thanksgiving seems like such a nice holiday. We should have something like that in Sweden – we don’t have any real holidays between summer and Christmas.

  8. Thanksgiving.shifts the focus from yourself to others. From your worries, anxieties to the good things that have happened to you. No wonder those that are grateful are also healthy.

  9. Although the Thanksgiving holiday is not a part of our culture it’s is how we try to live our lives each day. However, the reminders regarding having a grateful attitude it something I really appreciate, it fits right in with the last few days. Yesterday I talked with my daughter, who I’m very grateful for, she gave me information that motivated me to make changes. I’m making a list and adding to it to review each morning and each night before sleep. The universe is telling me something and I’m listening, thanks!!!

  10. I’m living in China, where there seems to be a real lack of ‘thanks-giving’ in the mainstream culture, nobody says ‘thanks’ in daily exchanges, and people often think its inappropriate to verbally thank close friends and family members, only ‘outsiders’ should thank people.

    I guess a cross-cultural study would be useful, to see how thanksgiving and gratitude affect people in different cultures. I guess people in different cultures don’t interpret gratitude in the same way we tend to in ‘western’ countries, but I can’t help but feel us expats get the worst off from the situation! We still feel the culturally ingrained need to express and receive gratitude, but there are few opportunities to do so! Even when I do volunteer work, people just give me food rather than thanking me!

    So I guess I’ll take this opportunity to thank Mark and the MDA team/ community for providing such an informative, intelligent and inspiring blog/ life-view, and, over the last few years, inspiring me to live an increasingly primal life and changing my world for the better! Thankyou!

  11. Mark – I’m thankful that four years ago, when my health and energy level and general outlook were tanking, I stumbled upon your site. The wisdom you share has changed my life. Yesterday I ate delicious primal food, took long walks out in nature, enjoyed the company of family and friends, slept well and woke up feeling refreshed. I am thankful for all that and for your guidance that helped get me there.

  12. I read a great quote recently.. “Being Thankful isn’t something that you are.. It’s something that you do”. It doesn’t happen magically, folks.

    You need to practice gratitude. We practice with my kids three times p/week, having a “What are you thankful for?” meeting where everyone in the family has to name three things. I think it is a very useful practice..

  13. Beautiful post, but just one eentsy teensty reminder: social science research is constantly belaboring the obvious, and that’s fine, I get it. But we tend to forget that we don’t NEED “research” to tell us the kind of thing people of known for millennia; in addition, the research doesn’t “make it true,” as if before we had university grant projects, we couldn’t be sure.

    And at times, the research is patently MISLEADING. I recently saw an article that said “At last we KNOW why people love their pets – they “release oxytocin” in our brains. A USA editorial said research showed why we missed our kids hen they left for college – again, some physiological factor. This is utter nonsense – as philosophers as far back as Plato and Aristotle knew, the “push-pull” explanations do not ACCOUNT for the truth of WHY something happens.

    Some people repeatedly imagine that because we can spell out the MECHANISM that goes along with something, we then UNDERSTAND it.
    sorry; off my soapbox, and this doesn’t reflect anything Mark said; I just notice more and more that every magazine article seems to fall into a fallacy…..

  14. I’m thankful for Mark and his daily apple… Even though I had a completely non-primal thanksgiving, except for the red wine and turkey of course. It was delicious and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Back to primal eating today, of course… Thanks for all you do Mark! Happy Thanksgiving!