Thanks for our health and thanks for our hearth
And the bounty that grows from the ground.
With our loved ones near we bless the year
That's brought us safely 'round.
If you have children in elementary school, you will have heard this refrain from Tom Chapin and John Forster's song.
Thanksgiving has a special place in the U.S. psyche because it is non-denominational. Unlike Christmas it is celebrated by all - which makes it even harder if you don't "have you loved ones near" or if the year didn't bring you safely 'round.
I have written more extensively about the tradition here. In this blog post I will instead focus on the beneficial effects of giving thanks:
A survival mechanism in our brain makes dangers much more obvious in our daily lives than the ordinary things that happen or even the good things that happen. That served us well when sabertooth tigers or wolves were abound but in our ever more connected daily lives with constant news feeds, this mechanism can put us on alert all the time.
For immigrants who have not yet learned the local do's and don'ts, the system is already strained by local people doing unexpected things and reacting strongly when we behave in what used to totally normal ways for our old country but are not acceptable behavior in our new home. Anxiety can arise when we are not sure that we will be accepted by our "new tribe".
When we constantly focus on the dangers, our bodies produce adrenalin and cortisone that eventually will hurt our immune system. Your adrenal gland needs a break.
It can be beneficiary for a couple of weeks every day to write down five good things that happened during the day. This counters the instinctual preference for focusing on only the bad things.
Focusing on good things gives our minds and bodies a vacation from the subtle anxiety. And being grateful for everyday blessings also helps.
Writing the things down daily makes you accountable to yourself for observing the good things. This slowly changes the brain circuitry to make you more consciously aware of life's positive aspects. The old "stop and smell the roses" advice not only asks us for taking the time to relax but also points us to the beauty around us.
So in the spirit of the season here are some things to kick off your gratitude list:
Ordinary things that happen to most of us is that we have health, hearth, and bounty.
Unless you have grown your food in the back yard, many people have been involved in getting it to your table.
Going backward in the delivery chain there are the checkout and baggers in your supermarket, the drivers who brought the bounty from outside the city on roads and in trucks built by more people. There are the people working in slaughter houses, those harvesting the vegetables, those tilling the soil. There are coal miners and oil field workers - or solar panel builders - who helped you roast your dinner.
Many of the people involved will not sit at a turkey dinner on Thursday. If you will, be thankful.
Since moving to the U.S. I have met so many people who have reached out, opened their homes and hearts, engaged in real conversations. I have experienced neighbors giving me their house keys; knowing that we would have a major move in and as they would not be home for Thanksgiving anyway, why didn't we send some guests up to their house? Nowhere was it written that they should be welcoming strangers. If you, too, have good people in your life, be thankful.
As Dr. Stephen Willis writes "Society is one big collaboration." When parts of society goes awry we see, hear, and read about it. When people do what they are supposed to do, nobody seems to care. For the people who make society run, don't take bribes, treat other people like they themselves want to be treated, and contribute to the common wellbeing, be thankful.
Thanksgiving is not a tradition where I grew up but has become one of my most cherished holidays.
For what good will you have met, be thankful - and pay it forward.