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Tag: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the holiday we really need

Australians are traditionally enthusiastic adopters of all things American.

Why then, when we are so keen to send our children off to roam the streets at Halloween begging for lollies, use z’s instead of s’ when spelling, and borrow yet another reality television show format, have we not embraced the one US tradition we need most?

Thanksgiving — I vote we make a place at the table for you.

On the fourth Thursday in November, Americans gather with their loved ones to kick off the festive season with a day devoted to eating turkey, watching football, and expressing gratitude. No presents required.

Although there are some who protest what they see this a glorification of the early settlers (the pilgrims hosted the first celebration to thank the indigenous Americans who had helped them survive through to the harvest — but far less hospitably, they also gave them syphilis and stole their lands) the vast majority of Americans, regardless of political or religious beliefs, consider Thanksgiving sacrosanct.

Sure, we Aussies already have plenty of all day-eating fests of our own. And we’ve dedicated a number of public holidays to our obsession with sport to boot.

But we rarely take the time out to reflect on what we appreciate, or remind ourselves that no matter how independent we are, we still have other people to thank for much of the good in our lives.

Surely Australians could get behind such a glorious feast, no? (Pic: supplied)

Have we perhaps fallen into the trap of viewing thankfulness as somewhat frivolous?

Cultivating gratitude, however, is important work. It has not only been linked to richer social interactions, but to everything from an increased sense of joy, reduced depression, and even physical benefits such as stronger immune systems, lower stress, less pain and better sleep. In our workplaces, thankfulness has been associated to everything from decreased absenteeism to increased productivity.

But in lieu of a day put aside for connecting and reflecting, what can we do instead to foster thankfulness? In reality, the real roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done kind of love and gratitude work happens 365 days a year. It doesn’t wait for the holidays.

Like any other important value, gratitude is most effectively developed when it is introduced from an early age as a daily habit. Whether it be through keeping gratitude journals, writing letters or cards of thanks, donating to the less fortunate, giving time and effort to others through acts of service to the community, or recognising the everyday heroes that help us, thankfulness needs to be practised.

Of all the American traditions and holidays we’ve made our own, why haven’t we adopted Thanksgiving? Illustration by Terry Pontikos

The research is clear too that even during times in our lives when it feels a struggle to find the good, we should persist, for it is at these times that we benefit the most from an optimistic, grateful mindset.

In his recent comedy special Annihilation, Comedian Patton Oswald powerfully opens up abut his own struggle to feel anything other than empty in a post Trump world — particularly when his wife, Michelle McNamara, died suddenly last year.

“Beyond my wife passing away, which is horrible, there’s also really horrific evidence that I might be dead and imagining this hell, based on what the (expletive) is going on around me right now in the world,” he says. “If my mind were to create a hellscape, it would kind of look like this.”

Yet, he argues, he’s somehow stay connected to both humour and humanity by following his late wife’s sage advice; “It’s chaos, be kind.”

Life is chaos. But make no mistake, in our increasingly unpredictable, narcissistic world, the gift we need most is some time and space to increase both empathy, and kindness.

This post was originally published in the Daily Telegraph 

Thank You!

On Christmas Day I logged on to Facebook to wish my on-line Friends all my love and was immediately struck by how many teen girls I am connected to were either:

A – listing off all their Christmas booty with no mention of family or friends, or sense of thankfulness for what they had

B – complaining in a ridiculous fashion about their gifts e.g.: “FML, Mum got me the black Iphone not the white” (talk about a first world problem!)

C – whinging that Christmas “sucked” / was so boring.

In response, I posted this comment on my profile:

It’s made me sad to see a number of my teen friends whinging on here that Christmas feels lame now they’re older, or that it sucked. I’ve heard similar things at home too. You know what? You only get out what you put in to Christmas (and life). If you just sit back and do the gift inventory of everything you’re getting, then yep, now that there’s no magical Santa element, it may feel all a bit flat. Once you move past the little kid stage, the only way to really FEEL the Season is to be Loving! Kind! Grateful! And try not to fall into the trap of doing the “Family Inventory” either i.e: because we don’t have a big family, we are not a “real” family, or because Mum is single, we are not “normal.” Families come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, as we get older, we even invent our own through our friendships.

So how about this. Get off Facebook and hang with YOUR family – in whatever form it is in, at this point in time.

And try saying thank you – with heart. 🙂

This attracted 117 likes in an hour and some of the most animated comments from parents and teens I’ve ever had on my wall! The general consensus from parents, and confession from teens, is that young people are not always very good at saying thank you, or at even knowing how to demonstrate gratitude.

Just after Christmas, I was fortunate enough to have gone on a trip to the U.S.A. with my teen daughter. In an attempt to try to help her appreciate how thankful we both should be for this adventure, I asked her to join me in using this as an opportunity to not only show our gratitude through going out of our way to be kind to others, but to explore the nature of giving thanks. And there’s plenty of evidence that this is valuable parenting work.

According to a  2012 study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Grateful teens are happier,  Researchers also found that teens who had a positive outlook on life  are well-behaved at school and more hopeful than their less-grateful peers. Study researcher Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., a psychology professor at California State University, explained why being thankful and hopeful matters: “More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world.”

Our first stop was Texas and here we visited the Thanks Giving Square and Chapel in Dallas.  I loved the fact that right in the middle of a bustling city was this quiet, light-filled  sanctuary established to inspire those who visit to think about all they have, all they’ve been given, and to perhaps reflect differently upon obstacles they have faced and see the lessons in these darker moments too. I was particularly touched by  some of the children’s art work which reflected the things they were thankful for:

“I am thankful for a beautiful mind.”

In New York I was incredibly moved by the notes and gifts of thanks that are still being left daily for the brave men and women who stepped up during the dark days after September 11. Directly opposite ground zero is St Paul’s Chapel. Despite the extensive damage to the surrounding buildings after the Twin Towers collapsed, this 1800’s church remained untouched and became a refuge for the rescuers who slept in it in order to maximize their salvage efforts.

Sometimes, particularly after events like the recent shooting in the U.S., I despair at humanity and think we are doomed. Other times, like when I walked through this building, I think we are a bloody incredible lot. It’s said 30,000 people arrived at the site to assist from all over the world. As an example, by the end of the first week, one thousand iron workers from across North America had arrived to help. I cried at how touching this site was and at all it represents about kindness and connection. I added my note of thanks to the hundreds being left throughout the Church.

 

This year I am going to investigate gratitude, and seek ways in which we can foster it in our children too.

In the image below I wrote a note to add to those left at the Thanksgiving Chapel in Dallas reflecting on what I am  most grateful for.

“I am thankful for the amazing people I get to do life with, and for work which makes my heart dance.”

 

I’d love to hear from you – what are you thankful  for?

 

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