Tuesday, November 12, 2013

One holiday at a time

Halloween is past. The excitement of dressing up and running around the neighborhood with friends at night and then gorging on candy has come and gone. The sugar high and the excess of it all is over. Whew! So naturally, kids (and big box stores) seek out the next holiday rush...Christmas!!! More sugar, excess and stuff.

But wait! We've forgotten the one holiday this time of year that is most important for us to celebrate...Thanksgiving. Sure, the argument could be made that all that food is excessive but I prefer to think of it as abundance. Abundance of good food, family, friends and gratitude (without all the candy and gift nonsense).

I'm pretty certain that my son, Tommy, doesn't hold the same sentiment for our November holiday. In fact, he has told me that Thanksgiving is his least favorite holiday. According to him, IT STINKS! But lately I've been feeling the need to be grateful for the things I have, rather than longing for the things I don't have. To find contentment in all the ways my life is really good. To not compare my blessings to those of others.  

Robert Emmons, who is the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude and also a Ph.D. in Psychology who teaches at University of California, Davis, found through a decade worth of research that people who cultivate gratitude are more stress resistant, can block negative emotions, and have a higher sense of self-worth. For more on that topic, click here.

Who doesn't want all of THOSE things? I sure do.

So even though the stores are already shoving the Christmas season down our throats so we'll "buy, buy, buy", I thought that in our home we should REALLY celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

But how do you teach gratitude to a child when so many of the messages he is bombarded with tell him more stuff = more happiness?  I myself am just beginning to adopt the belief that less stuff means a simpler, easier way of life and I am about to turn 36. Even if I threw away all the toy catalogs that come in the mail and turn the TV commercials off, I think he would still get these messages from his friends at school, when we go out shopping, and even from other adults.

So in an attempt to counteract what for the most part is marketing strategy and instead focus on what is really important in our lives, we have put up a thankful tree this year made out of brown paper bags, construction paper, and our hand prints.

Yes, it is kind of hokey and trite. But so is chopping down an evergreen to stick in your living room, decorating it, and then waiting for a rotund, jolly man to slide down your chimney to leave you presents. And this tradition could even have positive effects on our physical and emotional well-being if you believe what Dr. Emmons has to say.

Another way in which our family is trying to show thankfulness this year is by volunteering to help Tommy's class assemble a box of food for a needy family for the holiday. And we are making the very long trip to see Jim's sister's family in Vermont for Thanksgiving since we haven't seen them for a very long time. Food, family, and gratitude. Life couldn't be any simpler or get any better than that.  

Do you have ways that you cultivate gratitude during Thanksgiving or other times of the year? I'd love to hear about them if you are willing to share!

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