What am I thankful for?
The ocean journey took 65 days. The ship, a 180-ton behemoth called the Mayflower, was cold and damp. Due to the ever-present threat of fire, meals had to be eaten cold. Fresh fruit and vegetables were in short supply, and most of those on board developed loose teeth, bleeding gums and liver spots due to scurvy. Seasickness, extreme cold, fierce wind, rough seas and storms were part of the experience that marked the crossing of the Atlantic.
When they finally made landfall, conditions were difficult. To survive, the Pilgrims robbed dwellings and even graves of the Native Americans, stealing valuables and corn. The first winter was devastating. Exceptionally cold weather and heavy snow and sleet made it difficult to construct shelter. By December, most of the settlers had fallen ill, with violent coughing. In the worst of the sickness, only 6 or 7 were well enough to care for the others. By the following March, only 50 of the Colonists were still alive.
And that is when the miracle began. On March 16, 1621, a Native American brave walked into their shabby encampment. His name was Samoset. He greeted them in English with one word – Welcome. He left the next day, returning with another Native American named Squanto. Squanto spoke English very well, having spent time in both England and Spain.
Squanto’s impact on the Pilgrims cannot be measured. It is very likely that without his intervention, they would not have survived. He taught them to plant crops, including corn planted in mounds with fish, which would fertilize the corn as it decayed. He showed them how to tap maple trees for syrup. He pointed out which plants were poisonous, which were edible, which were good for healing.
Six months later, the story was very different in the Pilgrim world. There was plenty to eat, even enough to pack away for the coming winter. They had built homes, they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. There was much for which to be grateful.
The governor of the small Colony was named William Bradford. He declared a day of Thanksgiving, to be shared by Native Americans and the Pilgrims. It was held in mid-October, and 90 Indian braves showed up, led by their chief. The festivities, including games, marksmanship, and drum playing lasted 3 days.
During this Thanksgiving season, many of us are discouraged and anxious. Ironically, science teaches us that the very act of gratitude is a strong deterrent to anxiety and fearfulness!
Dr. Robert Emmons is a professor of psychology at the University of California Davis. He has done extensive research into the psychology of gratitude. Dr. Emmons serves as the Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology. He has written several books on the science of gratitude, including The Psychology of Ultimate Concerns (Guilford Press), The Psychology of Gratitude (Oxford University Press), Words of Gratitude (Templeton Foundation Press) and THANKS!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Houghton-Mifflin).
Dr. Emmons conducted a study project to learn more about thankfulness and its effect on human emotion and interaction. For the study, over 100 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to one of three groups.
The first group was to keep a gratitude journal in which to list five things they were grateful for during the week for 10 consecutive weeks. The second group also kept a journal for the same period. However, they listed five things that annoyed them. The third group simply listed five events that occurred. They didn’t indicate positive or negative. Each participant completed a detailed questionnaire about their physical and mental health before, during and after the study period.
The findings were clear. Focusing on positive thoughts and having a spirit of thankfulness was key in helping the study group in the areas of happiness and life balance. The findings are amazing.
Attitude: The gratitude group practiced daily self- guided exercises in intentional thankfulness. These individuals increased their level of focus, their energy level improved, and they became more determined to reach goals. The other group, focused negative thoughts, showed no positive increases.
Optimism and Health: One of the findings was that the subjects who kept a gratitude journal felt more optimistic about their lives. Interestingly, they also improved their health focus, including exercising more. Conversely, the other group, which kept a journal about mostly about negative viewpoints did not show the positive results that the first group experienced.
The health aspects of gratitude were further borne out in a study done with adults suffering from neuromuscular disease. In this study, Dr. Emmons had the adults participate in a gratitude intervention for 21-days. During the study, the subjects reported increased energy levels and more optimism. They felt closer to others, and even reported sleeping better at night.
Accomplishment: During the study, the gratitude group made significant progress on accomplishing goals they set for themselves in areas such as relationships, study and even health. The other group did not make progress.
Service: The gratitude group showed a notable increase in helpfulness to others..
During this time when there seems to be so much to worry about with the economy, the war and political uncertainty, it is important that we maintain a balance in our lifeview. The act of Thanksgiving has significant benefits to us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and even physically
What am I thankful for?