It turns out that something as seemingly simple as gratitude could change the world.

Thanksgiving means different things to different people. In the US, it usually means being with family, and eating a lot of Turkey (or, in some households,  Tofurkey).  The history of the holiday has its roots in harvest festivals in which people give thanks for the bounty of their crop, and in this form it is celebrated around the world and has been since ancient times. It seems somewhere along the line we figured out that being grateful for what you have is a good thing. But only recently have the full implications of this been examined and studied empirically.

Positive psychology is a broad term that encompasses many different approaches to the same goal: improving quality of life through positive thinking. Most of the information you can find about the role of gratitude are found in this area of research. The consensus is that the simple act of being thankful each day for the things that are good in life, however small, appears to have a powerful affect on a person’s overall sense of well being. Several studies involving gratitude demonstrate that the changes  this practice brings about are perceivable not just by the subjects themselves (as compared to control groups) but to those in contact with them, such as family and friends. And here is where things get interesting.

Getting a glimpse into the brain science behind the phenomenon was the challenge that neuroscience PhD student and researcher Glenn Fox  from USC Dornsife set for himself. It was no small challenge either, as he had to identify and employ ways of recreating experiences of gratitude. Using imaging technology now available, he undertook the first empirical study of the effects of the emotion of gratitude on the human brain. His methods and findings, which earned him an award from Oskar Schindler Humanities Foundation, give us  insight into how we might improve the condition of our world. This is because gratitude correlates in the human brain with deep bonding and joy and a desire to do good for others. There are strong implications for how a good society is built, because the good is passed from person to person, creating a “ virtuous cycle”.

So, quite literally, be grateful; it will make the world, at least your corner of it, a better place!

Read about the study here: