Thanksgiving is a national holiday, celebrated by both Canadians and Americans, reminding us to be thankful for the good harvest, to count our blessings and deepen gratitude.
In modern times, most of us are fortunate enough to have abundant produce and food goods available at grocery stores. There is almost always a plentiful harvest but sometimes we forget that. We have many traditions that go hand-in-hand with Thanksgiving: football games, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and family dinners with turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. These are certainly things to be thankful for especially in 2020 during the pandemic, we need to count our blessings.
Planning for the Thanksgiving holiday can be stressful. The costs associated with a big meal and hosting family can be overwhelming. There can be added stress if the holiday comes when life’s chaotic as it has been for many these past several months. The holidays shouldn’t be burdensome. When we’re struggling to find joy, it’s important to center ourselves and get back to the reason for the holiday.
Here are five ways to deepen gratitude and avoid feeling overwhelmed this Thanksgiving:
1. Keep our holiday dinner simple
Thanksgiving is about taking a day to be grateful with family and friends. We needn’t feel obligated to make the holiday food and decor perfect. Thanksgiving can be as simple as a small meal shared with immediate friends and family. This year to reduce the spread of Covid-19, many of us will skip the larger celebration and limit it to family and close friends. It isn’t about the food or the perfect table setting, it’s about setting aside time to be grateful for the blessings we’ve experienced this past year (yes, even in 2020.)
2. Publicly share our blessings
Many people use Thanksgiving as a time to share what they are grateful for with family and friends. This year, especially with all of its challenges and hardships due to the pandemic, it’s important to take stock of the good things. For example, remote learning for the kids was a challenge and yet, the family may have been able to make time to go fishing more often; to do crafts; to learn to sew or spend time with the dog.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to encourage younger family members to express their gratitude and to help them understand the importance of being thankful. We can grow stronger and develop greater resilience by experiencing hardships and picking up life lessons from them. Today’s modern life affords many conveniences; I don’t know about you, but I often take them for granted- and our kids may too.
3. Privately contemplate our blessings
There are powerful inward expressions of gratitude as well. Keeping a gratitude journal can be a wonderful way to express personal thanksgiving. I’ve kept a journal for years and a diary as a young girl. Every morning, I start my day by writing out three things I am grateful for.
Starting the day with this positive practice helps my overall outlook every single day. There are many ways to keep a gratitude journal. For years, I used a paper journal from the bookstore or a spiral notebook. Now I use the Penzu online journal – I can choose my font and background to look like paper. And this journal can be locked with a password. (I use the pro version now for $20/yr but there is a free version.)
As an example here is what my daily journal prompts look like:
Three things daily –
- Three things I am grateful for
- Three things I look forward to
- One thing I will do today to move me closer to my goals
- One thing I could have done better today
- Three nice things that happened today
- One thing I learned today
These prompts help me to stay in a positive reflective state of mind. I love looking back over prior entries.
3. Improve health
Along with drinking more water, going for a walk and eating well, there is another way to improve our health – being grateful. According to a 2012 Personality and Individual Differences study, “Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people.”
Other studies have shown that grateful people sleep better, exercise more and are more mentally resilient. Isn’t it amazing to think our attitude can affect our health in such a positive way?
4. Give back
We can also show gratitude through sharing our resources. From donating to a local food pantry to spending quality time with loved ones, there are plenty of ways to show how thankful we are and how much we care. Start next door and cheer up a neighbor by dropping off some homemade bread or a pumpkin loaf.
Be like “Flo” of Dovercourt, England who despite being the age of 89, made 100 pies for the elderly and vulnerable during the pandemic. I guess no one told her that she was elderly! Six of her large homemade pies feed 50 people; that means so far she has shared her baking with over 800 people during the pandemic.
There are many ways to make a friend, family member or neighbor smile and brighten their day. While giving to others seems like a selfless gesture, it is also a selfish one. Research shows that we actually are happier when we give versus when we receive.
5. Spend time in nature
In my household growing up, our parents often told my brother and me to “Be quiet!” We should heed that advice for a different reason – reboot and recharge. Find some individual quiet time this holiday season.
When we can, we should spend time each week enjoying nature. A 2019 UK study found that spending at least 120 minutes – two hours – a week in nature is associated with greater well being. It turns out being in nature helps reduce cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and ultimately, mortality.
The key was the 120 minutes per week spent in a park, the woods or a beach (versus an urban environment.) How about taking a short walk every day on the greenbelt path in the neighborhood or a 2 hour hike on the weekend? Spending time in nature is rejuvenating for all of us.
Thanksgiving is a season dedicated to being grateful and celebrating life. Let’s be sure to focus on what’s right in our world and count our blessings to deepen gratitude. And don’t forget to enjoy that pumpkin pie.