Thanksgiving offers the opportunity to do something we should really be doing every day of the year: Thinking about, and expressing, what we're grateful for.
And really, there's a whole host of reasons why we should make gratitude a daily practice -- research has shown that being thankful confers a whole host of health benefits, from improved immune systems, to feelings of connectedness, even higher team morale.
We gathered some of the biggest health benefits -- both physical and mental -- of gratitude. Tell us in the comments: What are you most grateful for this year?
Good For Teens' Mental Health
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/11/gratitude-teens-happier_n_1749118.html">Grateful teens are happier</a>, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association this year. Researchers also found that teens who are grateful -- in the study, defined as having a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/11/gratitude-teens-happier_n_1749118.html">positive outlook on life</a> -- are more well-behaved at school and more hopeful than their less-grateful peers. "More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world," study researcher Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., a psychology professor at California State University, said in a statement.
Being constantly mindful of all the things you have to be thankful for can boost your well-being, research suggests. In a series of experiments detailed in a 2003 study in <a href="http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/6Emmons-BlessingsBurdens.pdf">the <em>Journal of Personality and Social Psychology</em></a>, daily exercise practices and listing off all the things you are thankful for are linked with a brighter outlook on life and a greater sense of positivity. "There do appear to exist benefits to regularly <a href="http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/6Emmons-BlessingsBurdens.pdf">focusing on one's blessings</a>," the researchers wrote in the study. "The advantages are most pronounced when compared with a focus on hassles or complaints, yet are still apparent in comparison with simply reflecting the major events in one’s life, on ways in which one believes one is better off than comparison with others, or with a control group."
Linked With Better Grades
Grateful high-schoolers have <a href="http://people.hofstra.edu/jeffrey_j_froh/spring%202010%20web/10.1007_s10902-010-9195-9.pdf">higher GPAs</a> -- as well as better social integration and satisfaction with life -- than their not-grateful counterparts, according to a 2010 study in the <em>Journal of Happiness Studies</em>. Researchers also found that grateful teens were less depressed or envious. "When combined with previous research, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge about the <a href="http://people.hofstra.edu/jeffrey_j_froh/spring%202010%20web/10.1007_s10902-010-9195-9.pdf">benefits of gratitude</a> in adolescents, and thus an important gap in the literature on gratitude and well-being is beginning to be filled," researchers wrote.
Makes You A Better Friend To Others
According to a 2003 study in the <a href="http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/6Emmons-BlessingsBurdens.pdf">the <em>Journal of Personality and Social Psychology</em></a>, gratitude could also boost pro-social behaviors, such as helping other people who have problems or lending emotional support to another person.
Helps You Sleep Better
Writing down what you're thankful for as you drift off to sleep can help you get better ZZs, according to a study in the <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01049.x/abstract">journal <em>Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being</em></a>. Specifically, researchers found that when people spent 15 minutes jotting down what they're grateful for in a journal before bedtime, they <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/minding-the-body/201111/how-gratitude-helps-you-sleep-night">fell asleep faster</a> and stayed asleep longer, <em>Psychology Today</em> reported.
Strengthens Your Relationship
Being thankful for the little things your partner does could make your relationship stronger, according to a study in the journal <em>Personal Relationships</em>. <em>The Telegraph</em> reported on the study, which showed that journaling about the <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/7756775/Gratitude-for-little-things-is-key-to-relationships.html">thoughtful things your partner did</a> was linked with a beneficial outcome on the relationship.
Benefits The Heart
A 1995 study in the <em>American Journal of Cardiology</em> showed that <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7484873">appreciation and positive emotions</a> are linked with changes in heart rate variability. <blockquote>[This] may be beneficial in the treatment of hypertension and in reducing the likelihood of sudden death in patients with congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease.</blockquote>
Is Good For Team Morale
Athletes are <a href="http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ811262&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ811262">less likely to burn out</a> and more likely to experience high life satisfaction and team satisfaction when they are grateful, according to a 2008 study in the journal <em>Social Indicators Research</em> of high-schoolers.
Linked WIth Better Immune Health
Gratefulness is linked with optimism, which in turn is linked with <a href="http://women.webmd.com/features/gratitute-health-boost">better immune health</a>, WebMD reported. For example, a University of Utah study showed that stressed-out law students who were optimistic had more immune-boosting blood cells than people who were pessimistic, according to WebMD.
Protects You From Negative Emotions That Come With Extreme Loss
WebMD reported that negative events can boost gratitude, and that gratitude can help to <a href="http://women.webmd.com/features/gratitute-health-boost">boost feelings of belonging</a> and decrease feelings of stress. For example, a survey showed that feelings of gratitude were at high levels after 9/11, according to WebMD.