How to Have a Healthy Thanksgiving
Extensive research demonstrates that grateful people are healthier people
If you are expecting recipes, motivation to work-out, exercise routines, admonitions about how much to eat or drink, you’re looking in the wrong place. No, you won’t find where to shop for local turkeys, who grows the best asparagus, or even how little salt to use in your gravy.
And this is not the article to tell you about the myth of turkey causing you to be tired from L-tryptophan (ok, I’ll tell you — there isn’t enough in the turkey you eat and it doesn’t act on your brain unless you take it on an empty stomach with no protein, so it’s probably the alcohol and side dishes that’s making you nod out).
This article is about the real health of Thanksgiving, the health that you create through the process of giving thanks. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, pilgrims dressed in black, Indians wearing feathers and colorful beads, Plymouth Colony, cornbread, cranberries, and pumpkin pie aren’t what’s healthy, or perhaps even real, about Thanksgiving.
If you want a truly healthy Thanksgiving celebration, be certain that the gratitude attitude is sprinkled liberally throughout your festive meal and gathering of family and friends. Why? Because every piece of research I’ve read on this subject demonstrates that grateful people are healthier people who enjoy the absence of long-term health issues.
People who are grateful have higher levels of positive emotions, are more satisfied and more optimistic, experience less stress and depression than those who do not express gratitude. They are more likely to exercise, take care of themselves, eat healthier, see their doctor more regularly for physical examinations and are less likely to suffer from weakened immune systems. All of that said, Thanksgiving could be the healthiest day of the year for you, adding to your longevity and well-being, if you know how to cultivate gratitude.
Roman philosopher Cicero stated: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Similarly, 13th-century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart advised: “If the only prayer you said your whole life was "thank you," that would suffice.”
Here’s how to create the healthiest Thanksgiving you and your family could possibly have:
1. The No. 1 recommendation from all experts on gratitude and happiness is to keep a gratitude journal. Sounds a bit too much trouble for me, to be honest with you. But it works and therefore it’s worth it. Why? Because research tells us that people who write down what they are grateful for several times a week feel better about themselves, have fewer physical symptoms and are more optimistic than others who don’t keep such a personal journal. The simple sentence to complete is, “I am thankful for ________because________.” Start now!
2. Pass a gratitude bowl around your Thanksgiving dinner table before the meal begins that simply has everyone’s name on a slip of paper with the sentence, “I am thankful for (name drawn) because __________.” Be sure everyone randomly chooses a slip from the bowl, reads it aloud and completes it.
3. Ask each person at your Thanksgiving table to express appreciation to anyone, present or not, who has exerted a positive influence on their life, whether or not they have thanked them in the past.
4. Have place cards at each seat that say, “Thank you for_________.” It’s you, the host/hostess, mom/dad, grandparents, friend, who are saying “thank you” to each guest for something specific, and this sets the tone for making the meal about more than food — and instead about gratitude, and ultimately about health.
5. Finally, end the meal with a terrific dessert and a request that everyone not leave the table until they have created a short list of benefits in their life, and then ask each person to think about how they may have taken those benefits for granted.
When you truly feel indebted to another in a way that the recipient feels valued by you, you have expressed gratitude. Just be sure you offer your gratitude positively, with no sense of obligation and always with a smile.
I am truly grateful to all of you who read my weekly blog here at San Diego Magazine’s website, take the time to comment here or on Facebook, and share my column with your friends. Of course, to all of the staff at San Diego Magazine, Adam, Jim and all the rest, thank you for including me on the team!
I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with family, for whom there are not enough time, words or space to express all of the gratitude I feel for each of them, and the pride and joy they each bring.
Have a happy, healthy and gratitude-filled Thanksgiving.
For more than 30 years, Dr. Mantell has successfully been bringing upbeat, friendly and helpful psychological insights to individuals, families and businesses in San Diego as a clinical and corporate psychologist in private practice. He's been a regular on Good Morning America, KFMB-TV News 8, has appeared on Oprah, Larry King Live, the Today show, authored two best-selling books and speaks regularly for audiences throughout the country. Dr. Mantell is a member of the Sports Medicine team at The Sporting Club at the Aventine in La Jolla, where he writes and educates others in the psychology of fitness. He can be found on Facebook and Twitter.