It’s a good time to work on being more grateful

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.


Black Friday benights a tradition

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving, a day dedicated to family, friends and food. I remember hours of conversation on what to make with my mother and grandmother and who was coming to dinner. I would try to straddle two worlds: The one my ex-husband lived in, which meant a traditional Thanksgiving, and another that demanded some Italian dishes.

Trying to make a traditional American meal while also satisfying two Italian women is close to impossible. And then there’s the issue of them possibly sitting next to a relative they didn’t like. You don’t want to be eating your drumstick while an Italian woman is giving you the “evil eye.” In the end you simply laughed at how close you were to being part of a soap opera. You tried to make everyone’s favorite dish but there was always someone who complained about not getting their creamed onions or puréed parsnips or “where’s the lasagna.” If it was up to my grandmother she would have stuffed the turkey with the lasagna. She loved to stuff everything and everybody.

The conversation always centered on the food, a missing relative, or periodic reprimands to the children if their behavior was not pristine. Of course there were also intermittent forays into the kitchen by my mother, who would give me the high sign to follow her. I knew what was to follow, which could be similar to the Inquisition. She wanted to know what I thought about my ex-husband’s family and how deplorable their manners were or didn’t I just hate how Aunt Mattie’s dentures kept clicking. The only way I could tear her away was to open a bottle of her favorite red wine and seduce her back to the table with its aroma.

I recall those days with great nostalgia. The time leading up to Thanksgiving was not muddled with ads for Black Friday. No one even thought about getting up from the dinner table to hurry to a store in the hopes of getting a bargain. It would have been looked upon as a total travesty. No matter how much you might have wanted to skip the whole gathering, you knew how important it was to your memory bank. Of course, retail was not one of the centerpieces of our economy at that time. But, I know if my mother and grandmother were alive today they would be have rosary beads in hand to pray for the people who left to the dinner table to go shopping.

I think we’ve gone nuts. When buying “stuff” takes the place of spending time with loved ones, then we have a real problem. The day after Thanksgiving used to be a chill-out day. You ate your leftovers and relaxed. Now there’s an incessant call to action from retailers. “Hurry, get your stuff while the sale is on.” The ultimate irony is there will always be a sale. But those who believe the hype might even go so far as to camp outside the store and cook their turkey on a grill.

What I’ve realized is that whoever came up with the name Black Friday hit the nail on the head. It is very black. And if we are going to continue this insanity then it’s time to wear black armbands and put a black wreath on the door to acknowledge the death of traditions.

I, however, am going to cook my turkey and lasagna, pour a glass of red wine and toast those those who made me realize what Thanksgiving really means.

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