November - a month of seasonal change when the leaves turn their brilliant reds and oranges, the colder winds pick up, and the sun-filled days begin to shrink. It also ushers in Thanksgiving, a time when many people pause and step away from their busy lives to spend time with friends and family. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to experience and express gratitude.
As we know, the tradition of Thanksgiving began after the pilgrims spent their first year in America and experienced great hardship. Their first fall harvest, however, was very successful yielding plenty of corn, fruit, and vegetables. In addition they had salt-cured fish and smoked meats, enough to last them through the winter. They celebrated this with their Native American neighbors on a day proclaimed Thanksgiving by their governor. This became an annual custom, and in 1863 President Lincoln appointed a national day of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving, then, started as a celebration of gratitude. The pilgrims were clearly grateful for the abundance they found in their crops, for finding peace with the Native Americans, and for successfully beginning to build a life on a new continent. As Thanksgiving approaches this year, I am reminded to identify what I am grateful for. I give gratitude for reconnecting with an old friend, for the chance to spend time with my family, and for the beauty the changing of the seasons brings. What are you grateful for?
From a selfless space, the expression of gratitude bestows many benefits. If you are ever feeling angry or jealous, or perhaps you are feeling a bit insecure or fearful of a situation, take a moment to find something in this experience to be grateful for. This can be difficult. Imagine that a friend has inadvertently said something that was hurtful to you, and you start to feel anger rising up within. Go ahead and feel this for a moment. Your body may tense up, perhaps your chest tightens, and you may feel a big knot in your stomach. Now think of some qualities that you love about this friend you are imagining has hurt you – perhaps you love their humor, their compassion, or their wit. Quietly express gratitude for these qualities in your friend. Feel this sense of gratitude for a moment. What happens to your body? Do you relax a bit? Does any tension start to fall away? Do you feel a greater sense of calm? If so, it is for good reason. Gratitude helps dissolve negative feelings, and helps to break down any barriers to Love. It also helps to evoke happiness.
Think of the pilgrims who experienced such hardship during their first year in America. They didn’t know if they were going to survive or not. They weren’t sure of much, let alone if their crops for sustenance would be harvested fully. There was much to be fearful of. They persevered, and along the way they must have had such hope in order to keep moving and growing in this unknown. They must have had little moments of gratitude along the way to spark feelings of calm, love and hope to push them forward.
Perhaps this Thanksgiving, when coming together with loved ones, you can express gratitude and notice its power. Notice if any negativity dissipates, and if you experience a deeper sense of calm. Notice if this deeper sense of calm offers you more connection with others. See if this sense of calm, openness, and connection brings you a feeling of peace and happiness. Then you can take this practice of “thanks-giving” with you, and continue to give gratitude and gain happiness.
By Erin S.Erin Stitzel is an interning therapist at The Awakening Center. She is a Masters student at Northeastern Illinois University and will graduate and gain licensure in August of 2012. She specializes in eating disorders, depression, anxiety, trauma, and grief. She runs the Saturday Eating Disorder Recovery Drop In Support Group at TAC on Saturday mornings from 10-11:30am. For more information please call 773.929.6262 (ext.12).