New Research Puts the “Thanks” Back Into Thanksgiving

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The science of gratitude has been prominent across the U.S. during the Thanksgiving season, receiving a boost from a new survey supported by the John Templeton Foundation. The survey found that on Thanksgiving, “people are happy to watch football and parades or eat until they’re more stuffed than the turkey. But they’re not as good at using the day to express gratitude,” explains Janice Kaplan, a Foundation grantee and author of The Gratitude Diaries.

The research found that just 18 percent of Americans are familiar with Giving Tuesday, the annual day of giving, while almost all—93 percent—are familiar with Black Friday, the retail bonanza following Thanksgiving. This year, the fourth Giving Tuesday fell on December 1.

“The survey is a reminder that we change the whole spirit of the holiday season by bringing a perspective of gratitude and thanks,” Kaplan continues. “There’s nothing wrong with a little consumerism—the economy needs it—but it’s striking how little ‘thanks’ goes into ‘Thanksgiving,’” she wrote in Time.

“Gratitude, at its best, is not just a feeling, but an action,” explains Henry Timms, executive director of the 92nd Street Y. “One thing I think we have all learned from the #GivingTuesday movement is how generosity itself is viral. The more generosity there is, the more it spreads. Especially in an age of social media, sharing information about the ways you donate or volunteer means you are supporting a cause or person not just in your direct support, but in encouraging others to do the same. That peer effect is important.”

“By demonstrating our gratitude, we take that important step outside our individual lives and move a little closer to someone or something we can help. That seems to me the true meaning of the holidays,” Timms adds.

So what to do if you care about gratitude too? Kaplan advises: “This is a great year to launch a Family Gratitude Challenge, so everybody in the family chooses a way to show gratitude during the season. That could mean donating to a charity or volunteering. But it could also meant a different kind of giving—writing a letter of gratitude to someone who has helped you or deciding to say ‘thanks’ to the people who work with you. Gratitude and generosity go hand-in-hand. Both make individuals happier and the world a little better.”