Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Most people consider it sort of a runner-up holiday for the “real” holiday a month later. But Thanksgiving does not require months of preparation, an endless line of credit and countless decorations. The perfect Thanksgiving is simply a house filled with the aroma of good food, the company of family and close friends, and a celebratory meal.
I am the family cook, and it does not take a Herculean effort to put out a good-looking bird and all the accompaniments. Cooking a turkey, of course, looks harder than it is. The first time it takes more bravery than skill.
Thanksgiving is my holiday.
The most important ingredient to any Thanksgiving celebration is gratitude. Many of us use the occasion to say something sincere about our many blessings during a pre-feast prayer but, assuming the cook did their job, everyone is struggling to not think about food.
It took doctors a long time to start studying gratitude. We have traditionally dwelled on the negative: disease. When we examine you, we are thinking about what might be wrong and why you don’t feel well. Just recently we have started to investigate the positive: “Why are you feeling great?” or, “Why are you happy?”
The Stuff Hypothesis was briefly considered. Over the last 50 years, personal income has increased dramatically. We have more stuff, but by all measure, happiness has not kept pace.
I did some personal research, which involved a lot of medical work in Baja fishing villages (before the drug wars). These were tiny places without paved roads, only part-time electricity, and one store that sold basic foodstuffs. Yet walking through town, you rarely passed someone who did not appear to be having a good day.
Such observations fueled research into the ingredients of contentment. It turns out that gratitude is really important to well-being – it is measurably and scientifically important. There have been a couple dozen studies on specifically this connection and it has been proven that the simple act of being grateful increases a person’s feeling of contentment.
That perhaps seems a curious connection, but it is explained in that gratitude can exist only when you live in the present (always a good idea), and acknowledge the positive aspects of your life that were not your doing. Too often we ruminate on some problem that is not life-threatening and unlikely to damage us in any long-term fashion. That is time not well spent.
Gratitude is also associated with better health: Lower levels of stress, reduced hypertension and fewer incidents of heart disease and stroke.
Thanksgiving is a perfect time to show gratitude for your life. Even spending five minutes a day listing what you are grateful for can make a big difference in your health.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona, clinic.