A year ago, we were all being cautioned against gathering together for Thanksgiving – or at least to severely limit the number of households involved, celebrate outside, mask, and all the rest.

girl helping man carve Thanksgiving turkey Whatever you thought about those restrictions, we can all be grateful that this year is not last and that life is a little closer to normal again. More of us will travel to enjoy the holiday weekend with loved ones. We will sit down together again for feasts, football, and fun, or simply observe the day as the spirit moves us.

Still, after nearly two especially tumultuous years, it can seem hard to find reasons for gratitude, especially considering how polarized our nation has become. Yet the national holiday we celebrate this month arose during an even more uncertain time: the years leading up to the Civil War. In fact, it was conceived as a way to promote unity, setting aside our differences and connecting through the act of giving thanks.

One great reason to cultivate a gratitude practice is that there will always be times like these. When we make gratitude a habit, it gets easier to recognize our blessings even when we may despair about the state of the world around us.

It’s no surprise that this can benefit mental health, nurturing emotional resilience while also reducing anxiety and fueling hope. This, in turn, makes it easier to make healthier choices in our day-to-day lives, benefitting oral and whole body health alike.

But that’s hardly the only aspect in which gratitude supports our health and well-being.

Because gratitude reduces stress, for instance, this can mean less clenching and grinding of teeth – a habit that can lead to the chronic pain of jaw joint (TMJ) dysfunction, not to mention gum recession and tooth damage.

Gratitude also supports healthier gums. Chronic inflammation is one of the hallmarks of periodontal disease. (You see it in the form of red, puffy gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss.) Studies such as this one suggest that gratitude may actually reduce inflammation.

However, at least one fairly recent study has suggested that it might not be gratitude alone that reduces inflammation but from behaviors that arise from it, such as supporting others. In this case, 76 adults were randomly assigned to write either on neutral topics or on topics meant to inspire gratitude. The writing alone didn’t seem to have much effect, even after 6 weeks. Yet

Although there was no effect of the gratitude intervention on postintervention inflammatory markers, increases in support-giving across the entire sample were related to decreases in inflammatory markers.

gratitude listOther studies – such as this and this – suggest that gratitude may improve sleep quality, which can also have big downstream impacts on health. After all, sleep is when your body does most of its maintenance work, including critical tasks such as clearing toxins from the brain. Good sleep quality is also associated with things like lower blood pressure, reduced inflammation, weight loss, and even a lower risk of gum disease.

So how do you get started with bringing more gratitude into your life? Perhaps the simplest and most popular way is to keep a gratitude journal. Even then, there’s no one right way to do it. You’ll find some ideas and templates to get you beyond the same ol’, same ol’ here.

But there are many other ways to cultivate gratitude, as well. You’ll find one particularly good list here, with 21 ideas for making gratitude more of a regular thing. Or get even more creative with some of the ideas here and here.

However you choose to celebrate – or not celebrate – this Thanksgiving, we hope it’s a wonderful holiday weekend for you!