Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. I appreciate its inclusivity, its celebration of gifts, the opportunity to spend hours around the table with loved ones, with the underlying current centered on giving thanks.
Thursday will be the first year we haven’t had Thanksgiving dinner in decades. The reason is strange and needs some explanation. Back in March, shortly after I broke my leg and couldn’t walk anymore, we moved from the home we had loved for almost 20 years to a new home in a new city. On our second night in the new house, I was the opposite of Thanksgiving.
To be honest, I felt sorry for myself. I couldn’t walk or navigate around all the boxes, odds and ends and bags in our new home. I couldn’t find anything in the mess that was my life and home, and I wasn’t sure how or when things would get better.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that difficult moments don’t last. We would get our house and live together. I would find whatever I needed – and I would walk again.
Still, I knew anticipating something funny would lift my spirits. With my exhausted husband almost falling asleep next to me, I started poking around on my phone for the trip I had been contemplating for months. We’d talked about it several times, but there was so much up in the air that we didn’t think booking a big trip was the right thing to do.
My hesitation was over. Within minutes I had booked this trip and informed my quasi-awake husband that we were going to Istanbul and Greece in November. He murmured, “Sounds good.”
I wasn’t sure what 2022 would bring, but I knew I needed something fun to focus on. My strategy worked. Bright things on the horizon help. My favorite bright things are travel and adventure.
The only mistake that came from my quick trip booking came when I realized a few days later that we had missed Thanksgiving Day on our trips with friends and family. So we celebrate a few days late. I’ll take this opportunity to remind you that giving thanks isn’t about a day. It’s a mindset.
A growing body of research shows that gratitude helps us in many ways—emotionally and even physically. I’ve been following the research of Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, for ten years. He is a leading expert on gratitude and defines gratitude as two parts.
Emmons says the first part of gratitude is what he calls “an affirmation of good” — basically, by paying attention to life and focusing on gratitude, people can see the blessings and good things around them. Emmons says the second part of gratitude is more external and comes from recognizing that the source of that kindness is outside of oneself. We receive gifts from others or from a higher power, fate or the natural world.
The benefits of gratitude abound, according to a study compiled by Psychology Today. Gratitude can help build better relationships, improve physical health, improve mental health, improve empathy, reduce aggression, improve sleep, improve self-esteem, and increase mental toughness.
“In the history of ideas, gratitude has had surprisingly few critics,” write Giacomo Bono, Emmons, and Michael McCullough in their research. It is virtuously pleasant because it not only uplifts the person experiencing it, but also does not always naturally or easily edify the person to whom it is addressed. Gratitude must and can be cultivated. And by cultivating virtue, it seems that people can get the pleasure of gratitude and all the other benefits that come with it for free.