Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Thanks that Keep on Giving

Nothing says it like a Hand Turkey
Yesterday my youngest drew up an 80-item list of things she was thankful for. I'm thrilled to report I topped it, well above "Clocks" (#17), "Candy and Cake" (#34), and even "Weapons" (#72). "God" made a pathetic appearance at #80, barely beat out by "Couches." That's always a tough call.

While the eight-year-old's list began to sound like those "Anniversary Gifts" booklets they hand out in Hallmark stores--Silk, Cloth, Wood, etc.--she nevertheless had the right idea, in this season of thankfulness.

Gratitude researcher (yes, there is such a job) Robert Emmons of UC Davis has found that people who practice gratitude demonstrate greater overall well-being. To take just two examples, he discovered that,
  1. In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003) [emphasis mine]. And,
  2. A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others).

It can be too easy during the holiday season for adults to focus on the negative: negotiating logistics, difficult family situations, the stress of gift-giving, lines at the post office, planning the giant feasts. Consider this post a gratitude intervention and feel free to come up with your own Top Ten List!

Top Ten Wonderful Things about Thanksgiving:

1. The food. Whether you eat in a restaurant, buy your feast at the grocery story, potluck it with friends and family, or slave over the whole thing yourself, Thanksgiving kicks off the season of deliciousness. If I ever go completely berserk from not keeping a gratitude journal, end up on Death Row and am offered a final meal, I just might ask for a Thanksgiving meal. It's all about the stuffing and cranberry sauce, the green-bean casserole and pumpkin pie. Mmmm...

2. It's not Christmas. No gift pressure. Yeah, maybe you bring your host a bottle of wine, but that's it.

3. We're stuffed, not starving. Think about the pilgrims and how touch-and-go things always were food-wise. Thank heaven for Native-American generosity in those early days and the abundance of our modern food supply.

4. Thanksgiving celebrates leftovers. As I've mentioned before, so many times leftovers get pushed to the back of our fridge until they liquefy or grow nasty gray-green fur. But Thanksgiving leftover creativity has become a tradition in itself. Turkey soup, turkey enchiladas, turkey a la king. Cranberry sauce appears on sandwiches and made into quick bread. When in doubt or suffering from lack of imagination, we just eat the meal itself, over and over until we run out.

5. Thanksgiving is all about opening our doors to each other. The Pilgrims and the Native Americans again. We gather with family or friends or strangers or a mix of all three! And that's how it should be, traditionally speaking. No one cares about 4th-of-July-Barbecue Orphans or Arbor-Day Loners, but Thanksgiving's a whole 'nother story.

6. Time off! (Unless you work for the government, in which case you have already received your reward.)

7. Nap time is sanctioned. Thanks to the early meal and the game on, everyone catches up on some sleep.

8. You don't have to dress up or give out candy. Call me the Halloween curmudgeon, but I consider this a real bonus.

9. We take a moment to compile lists like these. One family I know has everyone go around the table and name something they're thankful for before they can dig in. If you know anyone with a gratitude problem, this can be a real motivator.

10. Thanksgiving leads to Christmas. The second my husband puts down his fork, it's officially Advent. The lights go on. The Christmas music goes on and away we go.

Happy Thanksgiving! May your turkey come out juicy and your rolls lofty!

(This post is shared by both my blogs today.)

1 comment:

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