Lee: Choosing an attitude of gratitude



A turkey set for a Thanksgiving dinner is seen. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Giving thanks is important all times of year and can improve your way of life.

By Ella Lee
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It seems as though since last fall, the world has hardly gotten a break from strife. Among mass shootings, political unrest, and more, it is easy to become overwhelmed in the face of evils. In a world in which turmoil often feels all-encompassing, it is crucial to take a step back from the chaos and to be thankful for our daily lives and the blessings that accompany them.

Although Thanksgiving was officially made a national holiday in 1864, its story begins much further back. In 1620, 102 pilgrims from Plymouth, England, traveled to America on the Mayflower, hoping that the New World would provide them with the religious freedom and prosperous lands. When the ships landed near Cape Cod and winter arrived, however, survival in the New World began to look bleak; only half of the original colonists survived their first winter in America. In an attempt to help the ill, malnourished colonists, local Native American tribes people — most specifically Squanto of the Pawtuxet tribe — taught the Pilgrims to cultivate and make optimum use of the land. By November 1621, the Pilgrims and Squanto had yielded a successful harvest. In thanks for Squanto’s selfless help, the colonists held a feast for themselves and their Native American allies; this was the first Thanksgiving.

Though the holiday has evolved over time, its original intent is still the same — to give thanks to those you love, cherish, and appreciate. It is easy to turn a blind eye to the good things in the world because of how much more negativity there seems to be than positivity. When a mass shooting happens, its easier to be angered by the fact the shooting happened than to be thankful that it wasn’t worse. When someone you are adamantly opposed to becomes president, it is easier to lose hope than to be thankful we do not live in a totalitarian nation in which free speech and protest are unheard of. Gratitude is a powerful force and should be acknowledged more often.

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Science has actually shown that expressing gratitude can improve one’s overall well-being. Many researchers who study positive psychology have found that gratitude can lead to improvement of health, relationship-building, and an influx of positive emotions.

In a study on conducted by psychologists Robert A. Emmons (UC-Davis) and Michael E. McCullough (University of Miami), the effects of gratitude on mood was studied: “They asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”

Perhaps, by focusing on giving thanks for the good things we have in our lives, we will be able to step away from the negativity that so often overshadows the positivity. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to do that.

“Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what is truly important in your life,” said UI freshman Kate Bazarek. “It brings to light how lucky I am to have been blessed with all of the people and opportunities given to me.”

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