Caution: Giving Thanks Can Be Self-Defeating

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In the US, the upcoming national holiday is called Thanksgiving, which infers you should be thanking someone for something you valued. Thanks for what?

None of us are the original Pilgrims and very few of us are having dinner with Native Americans, who deserve a whole lot more than thanks. You may be sitting down to eat with your family and close friends or perhaps you are doing a pot luck with acquaintances or even having an HGTV marathon alone. I’m not sure it matters, except to say that I hope you’re doing what you want to do and eating what you want to eat.

In effect, most of us have morphed this holiday into a day off from work and discounted shopping.

I say this with some regret, because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love to cook the meal, decorate the house, and generally treat family and friends (and a few strays who have no where to go) to a festive day.  I have a ritual where I clean for a week, get the house organized and buy a few new things to spruce up the place.

In other words, Thanksgiving is a luxury for me. I focus intensely on something other than work and school.

So however it is you take this day, I hope it’s the same kind of joyful destination for you. In other words:

Let Thanksgiving be whatever YOU want it to mean.

I think a fixed day and time for gratitude may be dangerous. Similar to a day of religious confession, atonement or writing in your gratitude journal every morning: a forced ritual of emotional work can suck the meaning out of your life.

The scientific literature now shows that being grateful lowers your blood pressure and is a good stress reliever. So, certainly I don’t recommend against feeling grateful. Gratitude is a great way to reframe negative experiences. It’s a way of getting over trauma. Gratitude gives you a way to acknowledge and leverage what happened in a positive way, since you learned a lot from a bad experience. But you don’t want to try to feel grateful before you have digested what happened and expressed how you felt about it.

Do be careful about manufacturing gratitude in the face of bad circumstances or to people who aren’t really rooting for you. Be sensitive to your true feelings and express them. Then, you may genuinely feel like you have want to express gratitude for the learning or growth you have experienced, and the people who really helped you.

And, when you are ready to be grateful and give thanks: make sure to include yourself at the very top of the list. You have been there for you all along.

Have a great day doing what you want to do: eat, sleep, binge watch or indulge in a favorite book or hobby. I’ll be doing the day my way, and thanking the people who help clean up!

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