Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has some holiday wisdom for us all. This Thanksgiving, even if you don’t feel grateful, act grateful anyway.

But don’t just take him at his word. His advice is backed by reams of social science research:

We are more than slaves to our feelings, circumstances and genes. Evidence suggests that we can actively choose to practice gratitude — and that doing so raises our happiness.

This is not just self-improvement hokum. For example, researchers in one 2003 study randomly assigned one group of study participants to keep a short weekly list of the things they were grateful for, while other groups listed hassles or neutral events. Ten weeks later, the first group enjoyed significantly greater life satisfaction than the others. Other studies have shown the same pattern and lead to the same conclusion. If you want a truly happy holiday, choose to keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving, whether you feel like it or not. …

In addition to building our own happiness, choosing gratitude can also bring out the best in those around us. Researchers at the University of Southern California showed this in a 2011 study of people with high power but low emotional security (think of the worst boss you’ve ever had). The research demonstrated that when their competence was questioned, the subjects tended to lash out with aggression and personal denigration. When shown gratitude, however, they reduced the bad behavior. That is, the best way to disarm an angry interlocutor is with a warm “thank you.”

At a time when our country is more divided than ever, it’s worth trying his advice. After all, healing our nation isn’t a job that can be done in Washington. Making America a better, stronger, more unified place happens one person, family, and community at a time.

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