Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I love the simplicity surrounding the day – it began as a gathering to give thanks for the bounty of the harvest. Today, for many, it has become a day to be thankful for all our blessings.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, the author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, says:
“Gratitude is many things to many people. It is wonder; it is appreciation; it is looking on the bright side of a setback; it is fathoming abundance; it is thanking someone in your life; it is thanking God; it is ‘counting blessings.’ It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is coping; it is present-oriented.”
There are real health benefits to expressing gratitude. Lyubomirsky’s research concluded those who are grateful are more likely to be happy, hopeful and energetic as compared to their less grateful counterparts. They also appear to have more positive emotions overall.
So how do we cultivate this gratitude, especially when we are struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder or other serious health issues? Scores of books and articles have been written on this subject, but maybe taking a look at events surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday can give us some clues:
- Reaching out to others – As we begin planning for Thanksgiving Day, we decide who to invite: immediate family, good friends, or others who have nowhere to go to celebrate the holiday. Perhaps we remember those who have reached out to us in the past and let them know how much we have appreciated their thoughtfulness.
- Planning the feast, grocery shop, and cook – This preparation involves mindfulness. Engrossed in the holiday preparation, we are totally focused on NOW and the task at hand, and that can be incredibly calming. An added bonus is when family members join in to help. We spend quality time together, have fun, and create lasting memories.
- Expressing our thankfulness – Before the meal, many families acknowledge this day of thanks. Some might pray, others might give speeches, or still others might take turns saying what they are grateful for.
- Watching the children – Joy, hope for the future, and living in the moment (aha, mindfulness!) are just some of the things we experience when we are blessed with little ones at our Thanksgiving table.
- Giving back – Whether through food drives or volunteering to serve meals at homeless shelters, many of us feel compelled to help others at Thanksgiving.
All such powerful acts of gratitude!
I realize that Thanksgiving for some families, for whatever reason, is not always a happy time. Families have issues – some more serious than others. But gratitude comes into play in these situations as well. We can acknowledge whatever drama or sadness exists, and still choose to focus on the positive. For example, instead of bemoaning the fact that you have to be in the same room as your horrible brother, be thankful that you still have your horrible brother, and a home where your family can gather.
Whether our lives are negatively affected by OCD or other illnesses or circumstances, it is still possible, and beneficial, to embrace gratitude. Not only on Thanksgiving, but every day of the year.
Wishing everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving a happy, healthy, gratitude-filled holiday!