If the United States could be given a prescription for what ails it — from political cynicism and anger to dissatisfaction with employment or rising prices, to anxiety, depression or any of myriad other concerns — it would be hard to find one more effective than a daily dose of gratitude.

Americans have inherently understood the value of giving thanks, which is one reason why the Thanksgiving holiday has been a tradition since before the United States was a nation. 

Early colonists were known to set aside special days for the reflection of gratitude and spiritual blessings. The first such day typically is believed to have been in 1621, when settlers from Britain and people of the Wampanoag tribe shared their autumn harvest at a feast.

People may have been more prone to such things then, at a time when they had to endure hardships that are foreign to modern Americans. But the need for gratitude is just as fresh and important now as it was then — perhaps even more so.

A poll by the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics a year ago found nearly a quarter of Utahns agreeing that violence against the government could sometimes be justified. That figure was in line with the results of national surveys.

Those feelings may be connected to the results of a Pew poll last year, which found that 63% of Democrats nationally think Republicans are immoral, while 72% of Republicans feel the same way about Democrats.

The advocacy group Everytown reports that 550 people were shot in road rage incidents in the United States in 2022. Many internet posts are filled with vitriol. A study by BambooHR found that workers today are more unhappy than ever. Many feel underappreciated, don’t like their boss or feel they aren’t paid enough. Some harbor grudges against relatives or others who once were friends.

Strange as it may seem to some, the answer to all of this may lie around that table where you eat the Thanksgiving Day feast.

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Many families have a tradition of taking turns expressing gratitude for something or someone during Thanksgiving dinner. We would do well to make this a daily habit, rather than a once-a-year tradition. Happiness is a state of mind, and it is fed by a spirit of gratitude. But gratitude helps much more of the body than just the mind. The act of counting one’s blessings is the equivalent of a miracle drug.

In an internet post late last year, the Mayo Clinic made this observation: “Studies have shown that feeling thankful can improve sleep, mood and immunity. Gratitude can decrease depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease.

“If there was a pill that could do this, everyone would be taking it.”

But gratitude is far more than a physical phenomenon. Its essence is spiritual, and its essential prerequisite is humility.

As an essay on the Harvard Medical School website puts it: “With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, being grateful also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”

The same essay cited academic sources to show that gratitude is an attribute that can be practiced and cultivated, and that it is most effective when twinned with emotional maturity. It is a skill that can find pleasure when applied to the past, present or the anticipation of positive blessings in the future. It can be expressed toward other people, circumstances or one’s nation. Many people use prayer as a means to cultivate it. 

“We have been a most favored people. We ought to be a most generous people. We have been a most blessed people. We ought to be a most thankful people.” Those were the words of President Calvin Coolidge, written in a White House Thanksgiving proclamation exactly 100 years ago this month.

They remain as fresh today as the food on Thanksgiving tables nationwide. 

As does the truth that Americans could indeed solve many of the nation’s ills by adopting the spirit of this holiday year-round.