Regardless of how you feel about Thanksgiving as a holiday, it is a moment where you can take time to appreciate the community and loved ones surrounding you. Thanksgiving is about more than stuffing your belly until you have to unbutton your ever so tight fitting jeans. It is a chance to be grateful for what you have and even give to those who don’t have as much as you do! While it’s important to maintain this mantra about thanks and giving year round, Thanksgiving is a special time to come together and yes, feast… but also show gratitude.
Here are some ways you can express gratitude and enjoy this Thanksgiving with your friends, family, and community.
Gratitude benefits your brain
One of the ways people thrive and increase happiness is by noting everything they are grateful for on a daily basis. Did you know that regularly practicing gratitude is shown to improve mental well-being, emotion regulation, and self-motivation?
In one research study, scientists examined 32 individuals and had them participate in two 5-minute mental programs (one for gratitude and one for resentment). In the gratitude program, patients closed their eyes and were asked to picture their mother and all the reasons they were grateful for her. In the resentment program, participants were asked to close their eyes and imagine someone or something they felt anger towards. Researchers found that the heart rate of participants during the resentment program significantly increased and during the gratitude portion, participants heart rates decreased. They also found that during the gratitude program, the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and cingulate cortex showed lower activity in participants. This lowered activity means a mind that is calmer and more at ease.
Celebrating Thanksgiving sometimes comes with the stress of hosting or entertaining large groups of family and friends. This Thanksgiving, help your mind feel more at ease by taking 10 minutes prior to attending or hosting a Thanksgiving dinner to close your eyes and and reflect on every individual you will see that evening. Ask yourself how that person serves a purpose in your life and what you specifically appreciate about them. You will hopefully feel a sense of calm and ease by ridding of any stress that might be brought on throughout the evening.
Volunteer to strengthen your community
Another beautiful aspect about Thanksgiving is how many people increase their volunteering activity during the season. A common value among people who live a long time is their contribution to the greater good, which is shown to promote a longer life. In fact, serving food in a soup kitchen or reading to the blind can reduce mortality rate by 22% compared to people who don’t participate in such activities. However, this is not to say that volunteering once every 10 years will lead to longevity. It takes regular investment and time to reap the rewards!
This holiday season, think about all the people in your community who might not otherwise be able to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner if it weren’t for your help. When you volunteer, you do work for the community that might not otherwise be done. Try signing up to volunteer at your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving or on the actual day itself. You might enjoy volunteering your time so much that you keep coming back when the holidays are over (and reap the benefits of longevity!).
Appreciate your food without overstuffing yourself
Another common characteristic among people who live longer is their emphasis on healthy eating and eating the right amount. Although Thanksgiving is not known as one of the healthiest holidays (there’s nothing wrong with a little pumpkin pie!), you can still be grateful for the food in front of you without overstuffing yourself.
One of the best ways to practice gratitude is being mindful of what and how much you’re eating. Not only can overeating lead to adverse health effects such as obesity, but portion size also influences energy intake. Although it’s tempting to fill your plate to the brim with turkey, stuffing, gravy and more (because hey, that’s what people do on Thanksgiving right?) your body and loved ones might thank you if you’re not passed out on the sofa 20 minutes after dinner.
Being grateful for your food and those who prepared it does not mean eating everything in sight. Try staying in tune with your actual hunger levels and filling your plate only to this extent. You can still load your plate to the brim, but try loading it with more of the colorful veggies and sides. You’ll be able to eat more, feel good, and still express gratitude for your meal!
Gratitude is one of the greatest aspects of the Thanksgiving holiday, and expressing it can bring amazing benefits to your health and longevity. Enjoy and appreciate this time with your family, friends, and community (and also eat some delicious food!)