An Attitude of Gratitude: Health and Happiness for Thanksgiving

The holiday season is upon us, with Thanksgiving arriving near the end of this month. This holiday brings no commercial expectations with it, other than the necessary expenditures for food at the grocery store for the feast most of us consume with our family and friends.

The spirit of Thanksgiving carries a deep and meaningful message. The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of abundance, freedom, good health, peace and goodwill. These gifts still abound today, albeit in different forms, different proportions, and sometimes, different disguises. Keeping your mind tuned in to them and keeping your eyes open to them can be challenging when so many of us experience lack, sadness, poor health and sometimes, a lack of peace within and with our families. Seeing only the negative sometimes seems to be easier than looking for the positive, but when you consciously focus on the positive—even the smallest things—a sense of peace and abundance can flourish.

It’s all a matter of perspective. It is our choice to decide what we want to focus on, and whatever we focus on seems to increase—positive or negative.

There are several books that were bestsellers that chronicle individual journeys made into a life of gratitude when the author’s life seemed to have no hope. In A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life, the author, John Kralik, decided to send one thank-you note a day for a year. He had little hope for change in his personal and professional life, and felt he needed to make a change. This book, published by MJF books in 2013, describes how this simple act transformed his work, his outlook on life, his mood, his health and his view of the world.

In 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Change Your Life, author Cami Walker, a young woman in her 30’s with severe and painful multiple sclerosis decides to give 29 gifts—mostly small tokens or gestures—in 29 days, and finds her pain decreasing, and her health and happiness increasing. (Published in 2009 by Da Capo press.)

There are many other studies reported regarding the positive effects that gratitude can have upon one’s health and happiness, and are easily accessible and readable online:

  •  The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier/huffingtonpost.com
  • 10 Reasons Why Gratitude is Healthy/huffingtonpost.com
  • In Praise of Gratitude/health.harvard.edu
  • Be Thankful: Science says gratitude is good for your health/today.com
  • Boost Your Health with a Dose of Gratitude/webmd.com

These, and many other articles can be viewed with an online search. There is no shortage of reporting the underestimated benefits of simply cultivating gratitude.

Some of you have likely discovered these benefits already, and kudos to you. Many of us, however, need a refresher course in the importance of something as simple as saying “thank you” more often, even if it is for what seems to be a simple thing. Perhaps someone took an extra bit of time to listen to your woes, someone picked up your child from school, or brought you a bouquet from their garden. There is no shortage of reasons to be grateful to other people, and letting them know with a simple “thank you” or a handwritten thank-you note will reinforce their kindness. Note-writing is a dying tradition, but it should never go out of style. It should, in fact, always be in style and important.

Adopting an attitude of gratitude also involves personal reflection and private expression. One effective way to remind yourself of how bountiful your life is, is to keep a written gratitude journal. Setting aside a few minutes at the end of each day, or at the beginning of the day to reflect on yesterday’s blessings and writing them down is a positive practice that allows you to reflect upon all your blessings, large and small.

Some days, these blessings are easy to think of and write down. The birth of a grandchild, the family gathering for a holiday, the means to buy a new car, a child graduating from college or a clean bill of health are all large and obvious blessings. Other days, you may have to dig a little deeper. A beautiful sunset, a good night’s sleep, a baby laughing, a car that runs or a delicious piece of pie may be overlooked because they seem to be an everyday thing. Even if they are, continue to offer thanks. Remember, that which you focus on expands.

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Practicing healthful habits during the Thanksgiving holiday may take a little extra effort, but it is always worth it. Small actions taken together can produce big results.

  • Consider starting your Thanksgiving morning with a walk, weather permitting. If it’s a bit cold for your liking, bundle up and give thanks for the ability to walk. Reflecting on your blessings first thing in the morning while you burn up a few pre-feast calories is an excellent way to start the day.
  • Limit your samples as you cook, or while you are in the kitchen watching someone else cook. These can add up quickly.
  • If you are the dessert baker, consider cutting out 1/3 of the sugar in the recipe. Most pies, cakes and other desserts call for plenty of sugar, and reducing by this amount would not cause a noticeable difference.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially a glass before the big meal. This will likely fill you up a bit and help you eat less. Small sips during the meal are best.
  • Take smaller bites. Try a half-full fork or spoon, instead of heaping.
  • Put that fork or spoon down between bites. Chew each bite longer, savoring it and allowing it more time in your mouth. The more you chew, the more saliva you produce, and the more digestive juices you swallow, thus helping digestion.
  • Drink small sips of water between bites instead of gulps. More water dilutes the digestive juices.
  • Be aware of the extra calories that alcoholic or other holiday beverages add to your total intake.
  • Take smaller servings to start, and delay the time you would normally take for refilling your plate. It takes time for your stomach to register that you are full.
  • Take larger servings of vegetables. If the space on your plate is taken up by the healthier foods, you won’t have as much room for the foods that are heavier.
  • When eating dessert, it can be hard to stop once you’ve started in on the sweets. Taking a bite of a pickle or an olive after a small serving of sweets can help kill the craving for more. The bitterness sometimes quells the sweet craving.
  • Allow whatever leftovers you will reasonably eat in the next few days, and pack them in the refrigerator. Sending home food with guests also gets it out of your way—and your mind. Much of the food from the holiday feast can easily be frozen. If you are a guest, take minimal portions home if the host/hostess wants to send some with you.
  • Brush your teeth as soon as you can after eating. Your fresh-tasting mouth may keep you from putting more food into it.
  • Get away from the food. Go for a walk after the meal—or after a nap! Encouraging other family members to join you is a great bonding time.
  • Don’t beat yourself up with guilt if you overeat. If there is one day of the year that overeating is expected, it is Thanksgiving.
  • If you go out to eat during the weekend after Thanksgiving—perhaps on Black Friday—consider splitting an entrée or dish with your dining partner. Or, ask for a box as soon as your plate arrives, and put half of it away right away. These tricks work for every meal out, no matter what time of year it is.

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Above all, give thanks and enjoy. If some—or all of these—suggestions fail, consider it a once-a-year indulgence. The attitude of gratitude is certainly the most important practice to engage in.

Many Thanksgiving blessings to you and your family.