Zach Rawlings, MA, LPC

Licensed Professional Counselor

Thanksgiving is good for your health. No, I'm not joking.

Okay, many people are already feeling guilty about the massive weight gain that is surely to happen over Thanksgiving. And, if you’re not dreading the food coma, then you’re at least dreading your racist, out-of-touch relatives. Tell me you’ve seen the SNL skit showing how Adele saved Thanksgiving. The video has been going viral all week. If you have somehow been living under a rock and haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch it right now:

My suspician is that this video went viral because so many people related to it. It speaks truth about those family members we hate to be around because they make us lose our shit. But I want to encourage you to focus on something else this Thanksgiving: the parts of the holiday that have actually been proven to improve our physical and mental health. Check out what giving thanks actually does for you:

· It makes you sleep better. And let’s be honest — you need all the rest you can get when crazy Aunt Betty starts talking about how Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall across the Mexico border is actually a good example of a foreign policy plan.

· It decreases anxiety and depression. This has been confirmed across multiple studies that those who practice gratitude on a regular basis suffer less anxiety and depressive symptoms. If you typically get a little blue this time of year, practice more gratitude now to prepare yourself for this holiday season.

· It causes you to enjoy your life more. Quit griping about your Nissan Sentra clunker with the paint damage. Or is that just me? Focus on the things that are making your life awesome; perspective can make all the difference.

· It helps you age better. In his book, George Vaillant found that “[those] who have aged most successfully are those who worry less about cholesterol and waistlines and more about gratitude and forgiveness.” Quit saving up for that botox. You won’t need it if you learn how to be thankful.

· It makes you a better friend. And we all need great friends. We all want people who have our backs. Practicing gratitude can help you become that person for somebody. Gratitude has shown to boost prosocial behaviors like lending emotional support and helping others.

· It strengthens your heart. This is no joke. A 1995 study found that practicing gratitude can actually change your heart variability. This may be beneficial in treating hypertension and sudden death in patients with congestive heart failure.

· It makes you more resilient to attacks from others. Those who practice gratitude are more likely to not retaliate when others criticize them. And let’s be honest, whose mother doesn’t criticize them when they go home for Thanksgiving?

You may still be thinking: “I’m not the gratitude type. Being thankful doesn’t come easily for me. Plus, you don’t know how difficult my family can be!” Believe me, I know. But we all have to start somewhere. This Thanksgiving season, start small by writing a few things down each week that you’re grateful for. And share that list with a friend.

Another good way to introduce yourself to the practice of gratitude is to borrow from the Japanese Naikan tradition of meditation. Three questions this tradition encourages are:

What have I received from __________

What have I given to __________ ?

What troubles and difficulties have I caused __________ ?

These questions are designed to encourage reflection on some of our closest and possibly most troubling relationships. They help us to have a more realistic view of our conduct and responsibility in how we have created the particular relationship dynamic that exists.

Above all, remember that giving thanks is a choice. You can choose to do it this Thanksgiving or not. But let the facts speak for themselves. You’ll be a much more enjoyable person if you learn to express a little gratitude this year. And remember: it could always be worse. Always.

So, tell me. What are you grateful for?