Thanksgiving 2010 finds Americans politically divided and
struggling financially. But poll data suggest that Americans are
fiercely resilient, a quality that is strengthened by feeling
A wavering economy, a polarized electorate, a future in fog. On
the eve of Thanksgiving 2010, what's there to be thankful for in
America? As in the 1970s, the so-called "misery index" has risen in
recent years as the deficit ballooned, incomes flattened, and a
mortgage crisis put the dream of homeownership in jeopardy for
millions. Yet nearly three years into a national economic crisis,
there's evidence in polling data that gratitude - the positive
emotion that flows from the realization you've benefited from
another's deeds - is being embraced by Americans as a way to
readjust their expectations and reevaluate their lives.
What indications are there that Americans are thankful?
The latest Gallup "life evaluation" poll, which measures how
Americans view their lives in the present and in the near future,
showed the highest scores in three years in May and a slow but
steady climb since November 2008 - a sign, Gallup says, of
And an important factor bolstering resilience, say researchers
Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis, and Michael
McCullough at the University of Miami, is experiencing and showing
gratitude. The social scientists say gratitude can also thwart
deeper feelings of resentment that stem from personal economic woes
or anger at, for example, the political status quo in Washington.
Tough times "show how strong you are, how resilient you are, how
much you have grown and learned and developed; and you start to
value other things in your life," says M.J. Ryan, an author who
writes about self-empowerment.
In that light, she says, the improving "life evaluation" readings
indicate, at least in part, that "Americans are focusing on what
they're grateful for."
What indicators show Americans are too preoccupied to be
Charitable giving, one barometer of the collective sense of well-
being in the country, is way down in the US, with some 36 percent of
Americans saying they'll give less to charity this year.
IN PICTURES: Thanksgiving traditions
However, that is in part due to personal income insecurity,
studies show, and is contradicted by the fact that some 88 percent
of those who plan to give fewer gifts still plan to donate more of
their time and skills.
Many people living in an acquisitive society such as the US
exhibit narcissistic traits and an unjustified sense of entitlement,
writes Joe Ferullo in the National Catholic Reporter, adding that
for those people "economic hard times feel like unjust punishment
from an uncaring parent."
Moreover, a recent ABC News/Yahoo! poll showed 85 percent of
Americans saying they're angry about the state of the economy.
According to a 2003 paper in the journal Social Behavior and
Personality, anger, narcissism, and a sense of entitlement all run
directly counter to experiencing and expressing gratitude.
What can we glean from the recent midterm elections? …