Grateful on this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. There are those who bemoan it. Take, for instance, the opinion of comedian Jim Gaffigan. He notes that it appears to be one of those holidays whose creators didn’t real put much creativity into the planning:

“Uh, how about at Thanksgiving we just eat a lot?”
“But Americans do that every day!”
“Well, what if we eat a lot with people that annoy the hell out of us?”

Of course, we can also look at the story of the 1621 feast between Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians that serves as the foundational inspiration for this holiday. This, too, can be a bit problematic from a historical perspective. The relationship between the Massachusetts colonists and the Wampanoag broke down within a generation as more and more colonists took land, grabbed resources, and attacked northeastern tribal groups.

Metacomet, the son of the Wampanoag sachem or chief who originally developed a trade relationship with the settlers, struck back at English depredations in a conflict known as King Philip’s War. Metacomet was a sophisticated strategist. He developed a series of alliances with other native nations to form a confederacy against the English. The fighting was brutal. One historian estimates that the death toll “could have been as high as 30% of the English population and half of the Native Americans in New England.” We know that the fighting between colonist and Amerindians continued well after the American Revolution, culminating with the capture of the Apache leader Geronimo in the 1890s.

Throughout the early history the United States, individual states held types of Thanksgiving meals commemorating the 1621 event. In the midst of the conquest of Native Americans in the 19th century, Abraham Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving Day to be held in each November. What is not as well known is that the drive for this holiday was really because of the efforts writer Sarah Josepha Hale (author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”). Hale mounted a decades-long campaign to get presidents and politicians to adopt the holiday. Lincoln’s decision was less about calling for reconciliation with Native Americans than it was about responding to the Civil War. His proclamation called on Americans to reach out to God to “commend to his tender care all those who become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.”

We can debate the history, and we can bemoan having to eat Turkey next to an obnoxious family member, but I do think there is something really great about Thanksgiving. We are living in challenging times, but there is a lot to be thankful for here at Colorado Academy. In my own life, I am grateful for family and friends. I am thankful to be part of an amazing school community. There are members of our community who have experienced loss and faced life challenges who have expressed to me how much the school community has supported them. Showing thanks and gratitude has a number of positive benefits psychologically and physiologically.

Quoted below is a an article from Psychology Today entitled “Seven Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.” Saying thank you and acknowledging others has tremendous benefits for individuals. In our mindfulness work at CA, this has been a huge take away. So, I hope you can enjoy the findings of this article. But, most importantly, I hope you can enjoy this break and take time to express gratitude for the little things that we too often take for granted.

From the article:

1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but also showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or send a thank-you note to that colleague who helped you with a project, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.

2. Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.

3. Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.

5. Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.

6. Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—a major factor in reduced self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.

7. Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.”