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8 Tips From Science For A Happy Thanksgiving

From the psychological benefits of giving thanks to a surprising use for Viagra, a few scientific lessons for the holiday.

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1. Stay off the road, if you can.

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Thanksgiving is an especially dangerous time of year for driving, according to researchers, because more drivers are drunk, tired, driving at night, or driving on unfamiliar roads. “With substantially increased traffic volume over a short period, this combination is a recipe for potential disaster,” says the head of The University of Alabama Center for Advanced Public Safety. If you must drive, take heart — Thanksgiving driving conditions have gotten somewhat safer since 2005.

2. Actually give thanks — it's good for your brain.


Psychology research has found that taking time to feel and express gratitude can make people happier. Taking time to be thankful may "reset" the brain, interrupting negative emotions. And, says psychologist Robert Emmons, "Grateful people are less likely to experience envy, anger, resentment, regret and other unpleasant states that produce stress."

3. And do it before your cousin starts criticizing your politics.

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One study found that students who wrote essays about things they were grateful for were less likely to respond aggressively to criticism afterwards. So reflecting on what you're thankful for this year might help forestall some of the evening's familial squabbles.

4. Think about Thanksgivings past to boost self-esteem.

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Psychologist Clay Routledge has found that indulging in nostalgia makes people feel better about themselves by making their lives seem more meaningful. And nostalgia can relieve feelings of loneliness too — so if you can't be with family or friends this Thanksgiving, thinking about happy holidays in the past might help.


5. Eat a lot so you don't spend as much on Black Friday.

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A 2010 study found that people who had eaten a traditional Thanksgiving dinner were less likely to want to buy stuff right afterwards than those who hadn't filled up on turkey. Apparently tryptophan (an amino acid in turkey) spurs the production of serotonin, which in turn limits impulsive behavior (like buying five discounted Wiis).

7. Fill up on turkey — it's healthy!

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Turkey is high in protein, iron, zinc, niacin, and selenium (a nutrient which sounds like a space poison but is actually an antioxidant). And even dark meat with skin, while higher in fat than white meat, has less saturated fat than lean ground beef.

8. However, today's turkeys are also pretty weird.

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Breeding for more breast meat means industrially-raised turkeys birds are so top-heavy they can't actually mate. And a recent genetic study shows that turkeys today bear little resemblance to their ancestors. But don't think about that too much — it could hamper your nostalgia.