In a few days, millions of people will gather to celebrate Thanksgiving. It, like Christmas, is a holiday that causes mixed emotions. It can stir up old grievances, grief over loved ones who are no longer present, and stress over the “work” it takes to cook and clean up.
I remember the cast of characters that used to come to my grandmother’s house. She would alert me in advance about their idiosyncratic behaviors, and the Sicilian nicknames she gave them definitely resonated with who they were.
Her idea of a traditional Thanksgiving meal was a turkey with sausage stuffing, lasagna, arancini, vegetables, salami and all kinds of cheeses. Cannoli and a rum cake followed. By the time you’d finished eating, you felt like you’d been inflated with helium. Thanksgiving lasted all day and into the evening, and it was always loaded with drama. There was also a lot of laughter. Looking back, I realize that those gatherings would rival any reality show on TV today.
Unfortunately, my grandmother would spend time throughout the day sighing and weeping over who wasn’t there because of choice or death. It was her nature to be a martyr. My mother had many similar characteristics. I have realized over the years as a result of my training in stress management that some people are habituated to what’s missing rather than what they have. I know now that some of this can be explained by the fact that they may be depressed. But being thankful or appreciative for what you have is also a practice. We become what we think about.
Studies have shown that our moods improve and our stress levels drop when we’re grateful. But like any behavior that can help us feel better physically, mentally and spiritually, it needs to be integrated into our daily lives. Here are five ways you can increase being grateful after Thanksgiving is over.
1. Try to think of a few things you’re grateful for before you get out of bed in the morning or while you’re drinking your coffee. You may even want to do this with your family. It only takes a few minutes and helps start the day on the right note.
2. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who really made a difference in your life. If possible read it to them in person. The benefits are immeasurable.
3. Before you go to sleep at night, think about what went right during your day. Our minds have a tendency to continually remind us of what we didn’t do or what someone else did to annoy us.
4. Focus on what you have rather than what’s missing.
5. Remember that the words “thank you” are simply words without action. Become the message.