While another Thanksgiving has come and gone, we need not only give thanks on the last Thursday in November. As a policy at SEEKHO, an educational organization I founded in rural India, every day is Thanksgiving. Before we start planning, working or teaching, we first all sit together and express three things that we are grateful for and why we're grateful for them. Team members express thanks for everything from the deep sense of purpose they feel from serving others to more mundane things like the Indian sweets we ate the day before.
While this may sound like merely a feel-good activity, there is a scientific basis for why we do this. The "three good things" exercise mentioned above has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and to increase levels of happiness as you start to focus more on aspects of your life that you take for granted, rather than on what is lacking.
In addition, Professor Robert Emmons, one of the main scholars of gratitude, has found that there are psychological, social and physical benefits of practicing gratitude. On the psychological side, studies have shown that regularly expressing gratitude helps people cope with stress and trauma, boosts feelings of positive emotions and optimism and makes people feel more alert and awake.
Gratitude practices can also help fortify existing relationships and help in the formation of new ones. For example, a study on gift giving amongst sisters in a sorority, in which new members recorded their reactions to receiving gifts, found that gratitude can promote the cultivation and maintenance of relationships.
Perhaps most remarkably, Emmons has found that practicing gratitude can improve physical health. More specifically, those who expressed gratitude regularly exercised more frequently, had stronger immune systems, and reported having fewer aches and pains.
This scientific basis for well-being has motivated SEEKHO as an organization to cultivate an ethic of giving thanks not only amongst our teachers and employees, but also amongst our students. We have found ways to integrate the teaching of gratitude into our Hindi, English, and math lessons. In this way, students are not only building up the traditional skill set they need, but are also learning to intentionally practice gratitude, which has the aforementioned psychological, social, and physical benefits.
While establishing a gratitude practice requires intention and persistence, it is relatively easy to do. If you have a journal, you can start writing down three good things that happened every day and what made them special. Alternatively, you can challenge yourself to write and deliver at least one letter of gratitude to an important person in your life per week. Whether you are a student, an educator, a spouse, a child, a parent, a team member or a leader, our experience at SEEKHO, as well as the scientific research, suggests that we should all make every day Thanksgiving.