Thanksgiving is good for you!
There is an ongoing debate in my household between me and my wife and three daughters. I believe, in my heart of hearts, that Christmas celebrations should not begin until after Thanksgiving (specifically, after all the leftovers are gone). They believe that it starts the second after Trick-or-Treating is done.
I know I am not alone. The radio stations by us are already playing Christmas music and several of my neighbors have already put their lights and their trees up. Every other commercial is about Christmas shopping. We live in a consumeristic beast and the Christmas season is where it gets fed.
Thanksgiving is a Perfect Holiday
Now, I don’t push back the holiday season until after Thanksgiving because I am a Scrooge. Sure, I don’t particularly like Christmas music and sometimes actively hate it (looking at you, “Christmas Shoes”), but I enjoy most of the Christmas season. No, I don’t push back against Christmas because I don’t like Christmas. It’s because I LOVE Thanksgiving. It is a perfect holiday.
Any holiday that revolves around eating, napping, and football is a good day. You don’t have to buy or wrap any presents, you don’t have to budget for it, and the most obnoxious thing you will deal with is your crazy uncle’s latest conspiracy theory. Why allow this perfect holiday to be subsumed into the season around another one?! There are 9—I repeat, 9—hours of football on Thursday and because it’s tradition nobody can really complain if you watch all of it.
I haven’t even gotten to the food. I love turkey. Turkey is amazing. So are biscuits and dinner rolls and mashed potatoes and stuffing and every other food we try to cram into our stomachs on the 4th Thursday of November. And how about the punch! At Grandma’s house, all that was in the punch was Hawaiian Punch, Vernor’s Ginger Ale, and orange sherbet but, my goodness, was it perfect. And the leftovers—oh my, the leftovers! What’s better than a leftover turkey sandwich on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Nothing, that’s what. Thanksgiving is a holiday that deserves to stand on its own, no matter what Macy’s has to say about it.
And furthermore, Thanksgiving is GOOD for you. Before the high holy day of consumeristic greed that is Black Friday, there is a day when we stop and take stock of the good we already have. We have an opportunity to gather with loved ones and practice gratitude together. And do you know what happens when you practice gratitude? You feel joyful! Who doesn’t want to feel joyful?
Thanksgiving Fills Us With Joy
Our brains crave joy. Joy is what helps regulate our other emotions and allows us to access the logical/reasoning side of our brains. Joy is the feeling we have when we see someone who is happy to see us, the feeling we get when we know people love us and care for us. Celebrating Thanksgiving allows us to experience joy in two crucial ways.
Gathering Together Fills Us with Joy
First, we gather with people who love us. Whether it is extended family, friends nearby, or just stopping to eat a meal with your own nuclear family, you are spending time with people who love you. When you see someone who is happy to see you, when you spend time with people who are happy to spend time with you, you experience joy. Even if you are going through a tough and difficult stretch of life, you can still experience joy by being with those who love you. That joy can help you regulate and process any negative emotions due to negative circumstance you may be facing. Being with people is good for our mental and emotional health.
Practicing Gratitude Fills us with Joy
Second, we are practicing gratitude. We are pausing in the midst of a materialistic and consumeristic world to be grateful for what we already have and the good that is already in our lives. We are stopping to thank God for the air we breathe, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the homes in which we live. We aren’t thinking about the air or food or clothes or homes we don’t have. We are thinking of the ones we already do have. We are thanking God for our good health and the ways in which he has answered our prayers.
Thoughts of gratitude actually rewire our brain so it is easier for us to experience joy, and therefore it is easier for us to manage difficult emotions and difficult circumstances. Gratitude helps us to turn away from the thoughts that are keeping us down and instead helps us to focus on that which will lift our spirits. Thanksgiving is like a pit stop on a long road trip—it gives us fuel to keep going. Of course, we should practice gratitude daily, but it is nice to have a day set aside of us to really lean into that gratitude.
How to Live Thanksgiving Every Day
It is deeply unfortunate that our consumeristic world immediately takes over in the aftermath of Thanksgiving by promoting Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals right after the last bite of turkey has been eaten. That space we have provided ourselves for Thanksgiving doesn’t last very long before capitalistic greed takes over again. How can we be grateful people in a world that tells us we never have enough?
A good daily practice is to include times of thanksgiving in our prayers. Focus on two or three things each day, visualize them, meditate on them, and meditate on God’s provision for you on a daily basis. Just as we carve out a special day on our calendars for thanksgiving, carve out some time in your daily routine to do likewise.
Another gratitude practice that I have used in my life is to keep a piece of paper in my pocket to keep a running list of things I am thankful for as they come up during my day. I started this when I was going through a very rough stretch in my life when everything seemed terrible. A friend of mine encouraged me to practice gratitude—it won’t change my situation but it would change my attitude toward it. So I kept a piece of paper on me at all times with a running tally of all that I was thankful for. It included my wife, my home, my car, you know, big things that were essential for my life at that time. But it also included small joys, like Cherry Coke or a call from a friend or being able to listen to baseball on the radio while I worked.
This practice did not immediately improve my situation in life. But it did change my attitude. I went from moping about the job I didn’t have or the house I didn’t have or the car I didn’t have to being grateful for all the things that I did have. And this rewired my brain to experience joy, even in the midst of a tough season of life. It broke through my sense of entitlement, humbled me, and gave me the strength to get through every day.
So in our rush to get to the Christmas season, make sure to take Thanksgiving Day seriously. Allow its spirit of gratitude to carry over into your day-to-day life and live a life of thanksgiving and gratitude. Take advantage of the space and time you have been provided and really lean into gratitude this Thanksgiving Day.