The tradition of Thanksgiving

Every culture brings special gifts to the world. Strangely, it’s not always the most inspiring ideas that spread the furthest. So while North America’s fast food brands are consumed in most countries on earth, their tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving as a national holiday hasn’t had quite the same reach (Puerto Rico, Liberia and Norfolk Island are a few disparate exceptions). And as global culture loses touch with the land and with ritual, celebrations of the harvest and religious calendars that call us to give thanks no longer structure (or touch) our lives.

Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving month

I was listening to a webinar yesterday. The speaker shared that, during November – the month when the USA celebrates Thanksgiving – her family compiles a list of 1,000 things for which they are thankful. This gave me an idea. I don’t have a big family, but I do have a wonderful circle of friends. So how about committing, as a collective, to starting or re-invigorating a daily Thanksgiving practice during the month of November. Let’s see how many different things we can give thanks for this month.

And November is a great month to do this. It’s late enough in the year that we can look back and reflect on the gifts of 2013, and there’s still enough routine in our lives before the holiday season arrives and makes a regular practice a whole lot less likely!

Why bother?

Not only does being thankful acknowledge both the gift and the giver, it is also really good for us! Research conducted by the Institute of HeartMath [www.heartmath.org] shows that sustaining a positive emotion, like appreciation or gratitude, helps our bodily systems to operate more coherently (with greater synchrony), resulting in less stress and greater physical and emotional resilience.

Rick Hanson [www.rickhanson.net], author of ‘Hardwiring Happiness’, explains that we need to implement simple daily practices to help rewire our brains from the ‘negativity bias’ that causes many of us, in this complex and pressurised world, to become overwhelmed. I figure my brain can do with some rewiring … and a month of giving thanks for the good things in my life feels like a most pleasurable way to do this!

Take in the good … deeply

Rick explains that this rewiring process requires us to ‘take in the good’ in a deeply embodied way. So rattling off a grace, or penning a quick and predictable list of things I’m grateful for, won’t be enough. I’m going to have to experience what I’m grateful for as if in glorious Technicolor and Surround-sound  – to sense it, savour it, feel its effects, and amplify it so that my brain really ‘gets’ the experience. Exploring goodness from the inside out will help me to give thanks in like measure.

Will you join me?

They say it takes six weeks to establish a new habit … here’s to the first four weeks! I hope you will join me this Thanksgiving month as we notice, savour, give thanks for, and rejoice in life’s many blessings.

Please share some of the things you are grateful for … and the ways you and your loved ones express your gratitude this month.

I’d love to share with you my first five …

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Family … one of life’s greatest gifts

  • The gift of living with my husband Pat Garratt, my greatest teacher and best friend;
  • My mother who, living with advanced dementia, has taught me more about how to live in the moment with grace and gratitude than any mindfulness article I’ve ever read;
  • A season of stillness in my life, during which I have learnt that it is also blessed to receive;
  • Friends, both old and new … and their gifts of love, wisdom, humour and solidarity;
  • And the internet, through which I’ve had access to a global community of wisdom-keepers and healers who enrich my life immeasurably every day.
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