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THE ACT OF GIVING THANKS MIGHT BE GOOD MEDICINE
By Debbie Glasser, Special to The Miami Herald

In anticipation of Thanksgiving, our family decided to make a list of all the things we feel grateful for. ''A fun, little holiday tradition'' is what we called it. So we pondered our blessings and jotted them down. Every night for a week, we shared one or two of them with each other.

Our family's blessings ranged from the meaningful (''I'm thankful for my family and friends,'' Ben, 10) to the not-quite-so-deep (''I'm happy I have bananas!'' Sam, 3).

And that was fine. Because we quickly discovered that the magnitude of the blessings didn't matter nearly as much as the act of feeling grateful for them. It felt good to give thanks, and we enjoyed this little exercise.

IT'S HEALTHY

Now it seems this exercise may not have been so little after all.

''Grateful people feel happier and more satisfied with their lives,'' said Mike McCullough, a professor in psychology and religious studies at the University of Miami who researches gratitude and its effects on health and well-being.

McCullough and his colleagues have discovered that people who regularly express gratitude may experience fewer physical symptoms, feel more optimistic about life, and even have more energy than those who don't take the time to count their blessings and give thanks.

It may even offer a protective effect during life's inevitable challenges.

''If you can focus on how things are going well, this seems to alleviate the negative emotions we often feel when we're under stress,'' McCullough said.

IT MAKES US HAPPY

The act of giving thanks may actually be good medicine, making us happier and healthier people.

McCullough encourages parents to express gratitude regularly and serve as role models for their children. He believes it's important for parents to teach their children gratitude from an early age.

Why?

''Because it is the most basic form of good manners,'' McCullough said. ``Also, children will be more generous and concerned with the needs of others if they regularly experience gratitude.

''And it seems to make people happy and may help them get through hard times with a bit more grace,'' he said.

Expressing gratitude doesn't have to be in the form of creating a list. And it doesn't have to be a Thanksgiving-only event. In fact, McCullough hopes families will get in the gratitude habit throughout the year, not just during the holidays.

You might choose to keep a gratitude journal, a weekly diary documenting things you and your family feel grateful for. Or you and your children may prefer expressing your thanks out loud at the dinner table.

The key is to express your gratitude, regularly, in some way that feels most comfortable for you.

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of NewsForParents.org, an online newsletter for parents. She can be reached at debbie@NewsForParents.org.

Published: November 23, 2006

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