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Thanksgiving & ways to practice gratitude

An overview: the history behind thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated in the United States. This day marks the arrival of the pilgrims on the Mayflower. The 1621 harvest feast was known as the first thanksgiving. Fascinatingly, these pilgrims were English puritans who wanted to break away from the Church of England. The area was originally inhabited by Native Americans. An epidemic, a few years prior, had wiped out the population. The pilgrims allegedly robbed corn and other supplies from Native American storehouses out of desperation to survive the winter. Their agreement led to the first thanksgiving feast. 250 years later, President Lincoln, declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. He saw this as a way of giving thanks and healing the wounds of the civil war. While this is a beautiful sentiment, it is equally important to remember the tensions between these two groups. After all, many people were slaughtered as a consequence.

The importance of gratitude

What does gratitude mean to you? Gratitude is why my family and I celebrate thanksgiving! My mum grew up outside of Michigan, and values keeping up this tradition with her family in the United States. Gratitude helps us take stock of what we do have, what we value and what we share. I’ve found that it helps us maintain perspective/offers new perspective. On this day, most people look at the world through a more altruistic lens. They think of those who are less fortunate or those in their community that need a little extra love.

Expressing gratitude

Thanksgiving makes us more conscientious about gratitude and expressing our gratitude. Whether it’s giving thanks while eating a delicious home cooked meal or sharing happy memories/things to be grateful for, thanksgiving is a wonderful day of coming together. It allows families to gather, friends to reconnect and thousands of hardworking men and women rest. It allows a space for reflection, introspection and camaraderieship. When reflecting upon this national holiday, I wanted to share a few ways to  practice gratitude in our everyday lives. Expressing gratitude is scientifically proven to provide sustained happiness and to increase daily joy. Positive psychology is a field that was first discovered and founded by Martin Seligman. You can read more about him and his research here.

Ways to practice gratitude

I greatly enjoyed Seligman’s Positive Psychology Foundation course on Coursera through UPenn. After taking this course, I learned about a few new ways to practice gratitude which I will share here in my list below:

  1. The 3 good things exercise: Seligman shares 3 good things that have happened to him each night at dinner with his family. In my family, we discuss the highlights of our day at dinner and as children, at bedtime. Writing down these things affirms them.

  2. Keep a gratitude journal: This way you can go back and look at all the things you are grateful for whenever you’re upset and need perspective.

  3. Give thanks more frequently: If you’re grateful for something specific (e.g. a friend helping you with work, your child making you a thoughtful card), give thanks. Express to them why you are grateful and how it made you feel.

  4. Meditate: This is a zen way of reflecting upon all that you have to be grateful for. Taking deep breaths in and out makes you more aware of your immediate surroundings and creates a soothing atmosphere for introspection.

  5. Write thank you cards: Sometimes the people in your life don’t know how profound their impact has been on you. If you’ve appreciated someone or something they’ve done, write them a thank you card! (E.g. your child’s teacher, a local barista, etc.)

  6. Goal setting: Goal setting is a great way to experience and thus express gratitude. Nothing comes close to the feeling of accomplishment when you’ve achieved a goal. E.g. Training for a marathon, applying for a new job, etc.

  7. Get creative with giving thanks: Bake for someone you love! Gestures can say more than words sometimes. And a singular thoughtful gesture can go a long way.

  8. Volunteer in your community: Actions speak louder than words. If you’re grateful for something, keep the cycle going and give back to your community.

  9. Donate: If you can, support a cause you care about. Donating will help your favourite non-profits amplify their impact.

  10. Support those in need: Take up a project that addresses a specific concern. From mask making during the Coronavirus to cooking at a local soup kitchen, there are always ways to show your gratitude. 

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