Gratitude is so significant to our lives that Americans follow a tradition that goes back to 1621 every year at Thanksgiving.

I remember feeling as a child that Thanksgiving kicked off my holiday season by bringing my family together. We filled up our house with people and very rich foods while creating memories and laughter.

It was the only holiday that both my mom’s and dad’s family gathered together under one roof and shared a meal together.

I have been to other Thanksgiving meals where everyone takes a moment to share what they are thankful for. It is a holiday rich in family and national tradition, but how does this cultivation of gratitude affect our body?

By expressing gratitude, it changes the focus from ourselves and possibly from self-pity towards others – and acknowledging them and the difference they make in our lives.

Gratitude has been proven to improve our physical health. A study published in “Personality and Individual Differences” indicated that grateful people are more likely to take care of their health and exercise more frequently, along with experiencing fewer aches and pains.

Gratitude has been attributed to promoting longer and deeper sleep. A study in 2011 encouraged individuals to make a list nightly of things they were grateful for. The study included 400 adults, and 40% of them had sleep disorders.

Gratitude interrupts a pattern of nightly negative thinking of worry and dread to positive thoughts of thankfulness right at bedtime.

After three weeks, the participants noticed that they fell asleep faster and slept longer and deeper than they had previously, which improved their wellbeing.

I believe the most important aspect of gratitude is that it changes our thoughts from ourselves to others and cultivates an environment of compassion. We could easily spend our time in envy and discouragement because someone we know has the life we think we might enjoy.

Jealousy and envy clog up our thinking and create a focus of negativity. Instead of finding solutions and moving forward in life, our envy keeps us where we are.

We should instead fill the negative spaces with compassion and gratitude through connecting with people. This connection changes us from fight or flight to rest and digest.

This small change of thought can reduce our stress level and reset our nervous system and has been noted and studied to even increase your immune system.

This Thanksgiving might feel slightly different than other years, but the core of Thanksgiving is the same. Take the time to be grateful even in the midst of a pandemic, because the health benefits and psychological benefits are astounding and will assist your immunity and your overall health.

It helps you by focusing on others and creating a heart rooted in gratitude.

Holly Wright of Bluffton is a Reiki Master, reflexologist, NASM certified personal fitness trainer, and co-owner of Trinity TheraSpa in Moss Creek Village.