As Thanksgiving approaches, all of the tensions of holiday expectations come along for the ride. Fortunately, there are five things that you can do to enhance the gratitude (and enjoyment!) of the day—and current research emphasizes the importance of doing so.
Gratitude is bonding; it allows us to meet difficult situations with less stress. New research shows that gratitude is important not only for mental health, but also for physical health. Gratitude allows families to develop a sense of belonging, maybe most particularly in the face of difficult situations. “Gratitude enhances our resilience, strengthening us to face disturbing information,” Joanna Macy, eco-philosopher and Buddhist scholar says. Professor Emmons and fellow researcher, Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have shown that gratitude increases optimism and makes people feel better about their lives. Individuals who practiced writing about gratitude also did more physical exercise and had fewer visits to physicians. A study by University of Utah psychology professor Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, showed that optimistic law students responded to the stress of the semester with higher numbers of blood cells that protect the immune system than those students who were more pessimistic. Positive emotions also have affect on heart health, hypertension, and in reducing sudden death by congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease.
Gratitude opens doors in our hearts. As Professor Emmons has stated, “It is gratitude that enables us to receive and it is gratitude that motivates us to return the goodness that we have been given. In short, it is gratitude that enables us to be fully human.”
Gratitude is a blessing that connects us to each other and to the earth. The late Irish author John O’Donohue stated, “When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plenitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness.”
So, how can we learn to foster an atmosphere of gratitude, blessing each other and the earth we live upon, even in the stressful situation of a Thanksgiving dinner with some difficult family members? Here are five suggestions:
1. Make your holiday food preparation an event in itself. Don’t squeeze shopping and meal preparation in between your usual tasks. Take breaks with a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy yourself! Remember, you are involving a blessing in the meal you are preparing.
2. Shop the local farmers’ market for food grown by local Biodynamic or organic young farmers whose work is not only to grow food, but also to build soil. This food is a blessing to eat, and your support of local farmers is a blessing to them! “We need people who are conscious about the spiritual dimensions of really good food,” says Biodynamic teacher and philosopher Dennis Klocek. “Food allows us to develop consciousness. Dead food feeds the corpse. Living food allows the soul to see the spirit.” Make sure the food you feed your family is “living food” that connects you to your community.
3. Begin the meal with a blessing. Ask each person to say one thing that brings joy to him/her or that he/she is grateful for. Hold hands in the circle of the table. It matters that you begin the meal in reverence and gratitude.
4. Remember your favorite Thanksgiving. After dessert, hand out pens and paper and have everyone write a short paragraph about their favorite Thanksgiving memory. Read these aloud to each other.
5. As you clean up, review the meal and the conversation. Dishwashing can be a time to concentrate on gratitude for those dear friends and family in your life who shared Thanksgiving.
Patricia Damery is the author of Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation. She is an analyst member of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco and in private practice. For more information, please visit patriciadamery.com.