A dictionary might define thanksgiving, as “an act of giving thanks”, but I think it means more than that. For me, it has to go beyond uttering words of thanks to expressing it in concrete ways.
In examining my own motives, I feel moved to do for others because I’m grateful for the good in my life which I feel comes from God.
It’s easy to see how the recipient of an act of gratitude benefits, but less clear as to why giving acts of gratitude benefit the doer as well. But, given that all the major spiritual traditions admonish followers to give and promise blessings will rebound, I think it’s about the presence (even if not openly recognized) of the Divine in everyone’s life and the blessings that flow from that.
Stephen G. Post, PhD has been researching this notion that helping others is actually beneficial to the helper. In one report on his findings he writes:
“There is solid evidence to support the perennial hypothesis that benevolent emotions, attitudes, and actions centered on the good of others contribute to the giver’s happiness, health, and even longevity. Although genuine benevolence must be chiefly motivated by concern for others, it has the side effect of nourishing the giver.”
Linda P. Fried, M.D., director of the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins found that: “Older adults who volunteer in troubled urban schools not only improve the educational experience of children, but realize meaningful improvements in their own mental and physical health.”
Perhaps a good example of this is the Catholic nun who volunteered in our local jail for many years. She devoted her life to helping those in trouble with the law to better themselves through various programs. She lived to be 97 while volunteering well into her 90’s!
Robert A. Barnett says that “We consistently find that volunteering and helping behavior is associated with a reduced risk of mortality. We see this over and over again in prospective studies that control for other variables, such as baseline health and gender.”
Thinking about this more deeply, what if more of us worked harder to love and help others and to be impelled by gratitude for all the good in our lives? Might it make us feel better? Perhaps we would not only be healthier ourselves but also live in healthier, more connected communities. The implications are profound.
I make it an axiom that I can never be harmed by helping others. And, though it’s not my motive, I’m grateful that it also contributes to my health.