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The Thanksgiving Recipe You Just Have to Try

Gratitude is good for us, good for others, and easier than pie.

Key points

  • Gratitude is beneficial physically, emotionally, and socially.
  • Gratitude has two essential ingredients: noticing something good and recognizing the source of the goodness as beyond you.
  • A simple memory exercise could help you get in touch with gratitude this holiday season.

The healthiest thing on the menu this Thursday isn’t turkey and dressing, or even tofurkey and gluten-free pumpkin pie. It’s gratitude.

There is a robust body of research on the physical, psychological, and social benefits of gratitude. People who practice gratitude sleep better, take better care of their health, have stronger immune systems, and have fewer aches and pains. They experience joy and other positive emotions more frequently, and they report feeling less lonely and isolated.

And that’s just the good it does for the individuals who practice it and feel it. But gratitude is also good for the social order. As psychologist Robert Emmons, one of the leading researchers on gratitude, puts it in his book Gratitude Works!: “Gratitude is important not only because it helps us feel good but also because it inspires us to do good” (Emmons, vii). Grateful people are more helpful to others, more generous, and more compassionate.

Gratitude is good for you and good for others. So, then, what’s the recipe?

Emmons says there are two essential ingredients: “(1) affirming goodness in one’s life and (2) recognizing that the sources of this goodness lie at least partially outside the self” (Emmons, 44-45).

Source: DreamPixer/Pixabay

That second ingredient may remind some of you of the concept of grace. And in fact, the English words “grace” and “gratitude” both come from the Latin word gratia, as does the Spanish word gracias and the Italian grazie. A similar connection also exists in the French word for thanks, merci, which is close to mercy.

And, to round out this etymological interlude, the English word thanks is connected to the German danke, and in both these languages, notice how close the word “thanks” is to the word “think”: thanks and think in English, danke and denken in German. And this is the point of Emmons’ second ingredient: When we really stop and think about the goodness in our lives, and how that goodness came to be, there’s almost always someone or something to be grateful for.

So, let’s give this recipe a try. Float around a few minutes in the pantry of your memory, and find a moment when something good happened in your life as the result of someone else’s actions.

It’s OK if your memory is connected to hard times, loss, or failure. Emmons’ research shows, somewhat counterintuitively, that remembering difficulties and the help that got us through them increases our sense of gratitude more than focusing only on successes and other good times, and watching a sad movie will usually make us more grateful than watching a comedy (Emmons, 12-13).

Your memory can be something big, like someone caring for you when you were sick, helping you out financially, or pitching in to handle a stressful circumstance at work. Or it can be something comparatively small, like someone smiling at you or letting you out in traffic. The important thing is that it meant something to you.

Now take a few minutes and let that memory come to you with as much detail as you can: the sights, sounds, touch, tastes, and smells of that moment, the emotions you felt, the way you felt physically. Next, write down answers to these questions:

  1. What was the good thing that happened?
  2. Who was the person (or spiritual being) that caused it to happen?
  3. What effort did that person make to do this good for you?
  4. How did their action affect you at the time?
  5. How is affecting you (emotionally and physically) to remember it now?

And voilà. That’s it. You’ve now prepared yourself a nutritious serving of gratitude. Go back for seconds if you want, and have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.


Emmons, R.A. (2013). Gratitude Works!: A Twenty-One Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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