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Opinion

Restoring the meaning of Thanksgiving

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November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving originated around the premise of giving thanks, but today it has evolved into a feeding frenzy. People travel hours to gather with their families, catch up, and eat until they cannot move. This year, try a throwback day by remembering the holiday’s original intent and make Thanksgiving about appreciating your life, thanking family, and helping others.

The first level of giving thanks is personal, private, and simple. Each day, write down at least three things for which you are thankful. This is an easy way to focus on the positive and reflect on and remember a great day. You will soon find that even bad days have their redeeming qualities, learning to focus on the good that occurred. Many studies analyzing people who make such lists show that those people have a higher overall satisfaction with their lives. By making lists, you can increase your positivity and always remember the good in life. You can further share this joy by thanking others who contributed to making the good in your life possible.

The next way to maximize your Thanksgiving experience is to take the time to thank your friends and family for all they have done. If you realize you forgot to thank someone, or meant to but did not know how, this is the perfect time to slip in a random, yet non-awkward thank you. You can do this in any form, from a simple “thanks!” Post-It, to a heartfelt card, to an in-person talk. Thanking people is integral to the Thanksgiving holiday and to making those around you feel appreciated. Before digging in to eat, suggest to your family that everyone shares someone or something for which they are thankful. This is a simple gesture, and one that most will not object to (as long as your meal is not late with grumbling bellies impatiently waiting). By letting others know that you appreciate the help they provided, Thanksgiving regains its true meaning.

The final, more involved way to embody the meaning of Thanksgiving is to try volunteering or donating. During the holidays, places like food shelters, nursing homes, homeless shelters, and long-term wings of hospitals strive to bring joy to the people they assist. You could offer your time to places like these by helping to decorate, socialize, or serve food. If giving time is not a feasible option, you could offer to make a few cards or write some letters to deliver to patients that rarely receive visitors or mail. Often, they will graciously accept such offers. Finally, you can donate money or supplies to various locations that will help them facilitate the holiday festivities. No matter what your method of helping others, it provides an excellent outlet to provide something for which others can be thankful.

Thanks can be given at any level, be it with oneself, with another person, or with the community. At any level, thanks is incredibly important. While eating excessive amounts of delicious food while chatting with your family is always enjoyable, take time to consider how you could add a little meaning to this holiday feast.

Jaime Haines is an exuberant puppy-lover and “House” addict and plans to use her psychology degree to encourage activism and well-being through counseling, workshops, speeches, and the written word.