Almost every culture, religion, and epic has left evidence of ritualistic ceremonies of “giving thanks”. Some are harvest-related, some are based on the notion, that no matter what we don’t have, we still have a lot , and should turn our focus to gratitude.
As a self-help specialist who has taught numerous stress reduction workshops at Yale , my favorite theme to address is reducing stress over the holidays. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to remind ourselves that GRATITUDE is the attitude that reduces stress. What better time? Being grateful takes the focus off of lack, want, frustration, and desolation. If you are thinking “Well I have nothing, so there is nothing to be grateful for”, you are dead wrong. If you have a pair of lips, you have the gift of a smile that can make someone’s day. If you have at least one arm, you have the gift of a hug that can make someone feel secure. If you have one slice of pizza you have the ability to share the crust with a furry friend. If you are stuck in a long line you have the capacity to let an elderly customer cut in front of you. If you have an email account you can send a line of encouragement to a friend who is going through tough times.
On Thanksgiving we should reflect on being grateful for all we “have”; but ALSO on what we are able to GIVE. YES, it is a gift to be able to brighten someone else’s day. Putting these two rituals together will give you lots more joy and much less stress.
So here are two assignments I urge you to complete this Thanksgiving:
1. Make a visual board/collage of EVEVERYTHING you can think of for which you are grateful. You might include an image of healthy food, a zany pet, a sunny park, a beating heart, a plant given to you by a friend, a family member you can count on, etc.
2. Make a written list of the “gifts” you have that others might appreciate: This might include sitting for your neigbor’s dog when she goes away, brining that extra bowl of soup over to the friend who was newly widowed, smiling and saying good morning when you get into the elevator at work instead of keeping your eyes glued to the elevator floor numbers, sitting on the floor and rolling a ball of yarn for your cat instead of just walking by him; donating some time to send supplies to our solidiers overseas, etc. Whatever YOU can do.
Giving thanks for the many things you have , even for LIFE ITSELF, plus making a personal committment to do something kind for others each day, are two powerful secrets for reducing stress and renewing your ability to LIVE WELL, on Thanksgiving, or whatever the time of year.
Take your focus off of the busy-ness, and keep it pointed to the happiness.