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As a psychologist, I’ve spent the past 15 years studying how gratitude shapes people’s lives. Research, including my own, has shown that feeling grateful has positive effects on our behavior — making us more honest, increasing our self-control, enhancing our productivity at work and our relationships at home.


Given that, you might expect me to think that Thanksgiving is one of the most important days of the year. After all, if there’s a day on which the benefits of gratitude are maximized, surely it’s the national holiday set aside for the purpose of expressing that emotion.


But truth be told, gratitude is wasted on Thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong: I love the rhythms and rituals of the day as much as anyone. It’s just that the very things that make Thanksgiving so wonderful — the presence of family and friends, the time off from work, indulging in that extra serving of turkey — also make gratitude unnecessary.


Consider that one of gratitude’s central purposes is to help us form strong bonds with other people. Research by the psychologist Sara Algoe has shown that when we feel grateful for other people’s thoughtfulness, we consider that they might be worth getting to know a little better. Gratitude pushes us to take the first steps in forming relationships with new people. And once we know people better, continued feelings of gratitude strengthen our ties to them. Feeling grateful to one person for a favor also makes us more likely to “pay forward” favors to others we don’t know — a phenomenon identified by the psychologist Monica Bartlett — which, in turn, can lead them to want to get to know us.

感恩的核心目的之一,就是帮助我们与他人建立牢固的联系。心理学家莎拉·阿尔戈(Sara Algoe)的研究表明,当我们对他人的体贴心存感激时,就会认为他们或许值得进一步了解。感恩促使我们迈出与陌生人建立关系的第一步。一旦我们更了解他人,持续的感激之情会加强我们与他们的联系。对他人的帮助心存感激,也会让我们更愿意向不认识的人提供帮助——心理学家莫妮卡·巴特利特(Monica Bartlett)发现了这种现象——这会让别人也想要来了解我们。

But as we sit around the Thanksgiving table with family and friends, we are not typically looking to seek out other people and form new relationships. On that day, we are already among those we hold dear.


To be clear, I’m not saying that taking time to reflect on and show appreciation for the good in life isn’t worthwhile. It’s surely a noble act. But from a scientific perspective — where emotions exist to nudge our decisions and behaviors toward certain ends — the benefits that gratitude offers tend to be rendered irrelevant on the day it’s most expressed.


Here’s another example. Work from my lab has shown that feeling grateful helps keep us honest. When my colleagues and I asked people to report whether a coin they flipped in private came up heads or tails (heads meant they’d get more money), those who had been made to feel grateful (by counting their blessings) cheated at half the rate of others. (We knew who cheated because the coin was rigged to come up tails.)


Gratitude also makes us more generous: When people in our experiments were given an opportunity to share money with strangers, we found that those feeling gratitude shared 12 percent more on average.


Yet on Thanksgiving, cheating and stinginess aren’t sins we’re usually tempted to commit. (Unless you count my taking too big a serving of Aunt Donna’s famous stuffing.)


Self-control is also something gratitude enhances. Research by me and my colleagues found that people feeling grateful made less impulsive financial choices — they were more willing to be patient for future investment gains than to take smaller amounts of money in hand. This self-control also applies to eating: As the psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues showed, people feeling grateful are better able to resist consuming unhealthy foods.

自我控制能力也可以因感恩提高。我和同事的研究发现,感恩的人更少做冲动的财务选择——他们更愿对未来的投资收益保持耐心,而不是贪图眼前小利。这种自控也适用于饮食:正如心理学家索尼娅·柳博米尔斯基(Sonja Lyubomirsky)和她同事的发现所表明的,感恩的人更能抵制不健康的食物。

But of course on Thanksgiving, self-control isn’t the point. No one needs a reminder to put more money in her retirement account; the banks are closed. And if I can’t be a bit gluttonous with Aunt Amy’s pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, when can I?


Gratitude also drives us to be more productive. The psychologists Adam Grant and Francesca Gino found that when bosses expressed gratitude for their workers’ efforts in a fund-raising department, the outreach efforts of those workers suddenly jumped by 33 percent. More frequent feelings of gratitude in the office are also tied to greater feelings of work satisfaction and well-being.

感恩还会让我们更有效率。心理学家亚当·格兰特(Adam Grant)和弗朗切丝卡·吉诺(Francesca Gino)发现,当老板们对融资部门员工的辛勤表达感激时,这些员工的主动努力会突然增加33%。在办公室多表达感激,同样与更高的工作满意度和幸福感息息相关。

Again, this is all great. But unless you’re in the hospitality industry, you’re probably not working on Thanksgiving.


There’s one other benefit of gratitude I want to point out: It reduces materialism. As work by the psychologist Nathaniel Lambert has demonstrated, feeling more gratitude not only increases people’s satisfaction with their lives; it also lowers their cravings for buying stuff. This finding jibes with research by the psychologist Thomas Gilovich that shows that people tend to be more grateful for time spent with others than for gifts of big-ticket items.

我想指出感恩的另一个好处:它可以减少物质主义。心理学家纳撒尼尔·兰伯特(Nathaniel Lambert)的研究表明,心存更多感激不仅会提高人们对生活的满意度,也会降低他们购买东西的欲望。这一发现与心理学家托马斯·基洛维奇(Thomas Gilovich)的研究相符,该研究表明,比起昂贵的礼物,人们往往对与他人相处的时间更有感激之情。

But on Thanksgiving, avoiding impulse buys isn’t usually a big concern. (The following day, Black Friday, is another story.)


So as you and your loved ones gather for Thanksgiving this year, consider that the joys of the day — the delicious food, the family and friends, the sense of peace — come relatively easily. We’re supposed to gather, support one another and relax on that fourth Thursday of November.


Yet on the other 364 days of the year — the ones when you might feel lonely, stressed at work, tempted to dishonesty or stinginess — pausing to cultivate a sense of gratitude can make a big difference. Gratitude may not be needed on Thanksgiving, but giving thanks on other days can help ensure that in the future, you’ll have many things to be grateful for.


David DeSteno是东北大学的心理学教授、哈佛公公领导中心的访问学者。他著有《情绪胜利:感恩、同情和自豪的力量》(Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride)一书。


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