Giving Thanks

In writing this tip, we are cognizant that today is American Thanksgiving and that Canadian Thanksgiving was not all that long ago.  Of the authors, one of us is American and one is Canadian. Accordingly it seemed appropriate to focus today’s tip on the act of giving thanks.

What is giving thanks?  It is also called gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness or appreciation. It is a feeling of genuinely and positively acknowledging the acts of another.  It costs nothing but means everything.  In some cases it can never be felt or acknowledged by those whose acts you are appreciating – such as being grateful for the selfless acts of another (such as acknowledging those who gave all at Remembrance Day).

It resonates in all major religions.  In Judaism, you are grateful for acts of human kindness and goodness.  The Eucharist is the most important rite in the Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches: the name arises from eucharistia – the Greek word for thanksgiving. In Islam, the month of fasting of Ramadan is intended to create a state of gratitude.

Studies have shown that grateful people have positive mental health: they are happier, less depressed, less stressed and have more satisfaction with their life.  They sleep better.  They cope better. Grateful people are more likely to sacrifice individual gains for community well-being. They are altruistic.

Can you increase or enhance your sense of gratitude?  Studies have shown that the act of writing and delivering a letter of gratitude has a big effect on improving someone’s short-term quality of life.  Longer term effects are generated by writing and keeping a gratitude journal – or daily record of three things you are thankful for each day. Participants in these studies voluntarily continued their gratitude journals long after the study was over.

We can set our deeds to the music of a grateful heart, and seek to round our lives into a hymn — the melody of which will be recognized by all who come in contact with us, and the power of which shall not be evanescent, like the voice of the singer, but perennial, like the music of the spheres.

(William Mackergo Taylor, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 290.)


  1. It would be worth developing, or using alongside this, a vocabulary for those who do not see evidence of the existence of a deity to whom to feel thankful, or from whom blessings might come to be counted. There are psychological advantages to recognizing the positive aspects of life, with or without supernatural references. It may be as simple as ‘a good attitude’ or optimism (not the Pollyanna or Candide kind, but a realistic ‘glass half full’ view).

    All of which can still be encompassed for social purposes in a wish for a happy thanksgiving…

  2. John, I totally agree. One can, and should, feel gratitude even if one doesn’t know the source of the things for which one is thankful, and even if that source turns out to be nothing more than happenstance. A framework for that is often a little harder to put into words. And I have to say that I’m grateful for Dave, who wrote such a beautiful post while I was off stuffing myself with turkey, and was kind enough to put my name on it, too.

  3. Well speaking of the music of the spheres:

    Paul McCartney wrote a song after John Lennon had passed on. “Here Today” is a conversation in Paul’s head that he never had with John. It is a very moving piece about saying thanks for the opportunity that they had to work together and to be friends.

    I don’t want to wait as long as Paul did to say that I have very much appreciated the work that Laura and I have done together (and look forward to doing!) A long time ago we stated that our writing together would be jointly attributed in the style of Lennon & McCartney. I have been by far the greatest recipient of that collaboration. To use Paul’s words:

    ♫ And if I say I really loved you
    And was glad you came along.
    Then you were here today,
    Uh, uh, uh, for you were in my song…♫

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