Who Are You Thankful for?

As we ’round the corner into late November, temptations abound. Given the atmosphere of cheer and fabulous “One Day Only” deals, it is easy to get seduced by the American traditions of Food, Folks and Funny looking lawn ornaments that signify the coming of the holidays. Each year at this time, my practice tends to be focused on working with patients who are anticipating the stresses that are inextricably linked with the Year End Trifecta—for the uninitiated, I am referring to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, rather than Chips, Salsa and Guacamole,—the well-known Cinco de Mayo Trifeca.Its no secret or shame that many of us tend to consume more around the holidays—I mean who can resist gorging on or those Honey Dipped Pecans that only seem to emerge between November 23rdand December 26th? Or those oh so sophisticated After Eight chocolate gooey minty things that are at the bottom of your brother’s stocking each year? But (spoiler alert: Buzz Kill ahead) when its all said and done, after we have consumed to our heart’s content and our cardiologists’ dismay, many of us actually feel emptier inside then when the feeding frenzy started.

So what can we do about this? Personally, I’m not about to give up my Mallomars. And for that matter, I’m not gonna apologize for knocking your grandmother over on my way to get my third helping of Stove Top stuffing—as far as I’m concerned, she should’ve known to get out of my way when she saw me grunting. Instead, maybe we can alter our habits just slightly this holiday season.  I believe that if we can make these two small but meaningful additions, we will all feel much fuller and contented by the time of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Suggestion #1: Reflect. If we use the holidays as a time to think about not what we are thankful for, but who we are thankful for, we are probably going to have a more meaningful experience. Each one of us owes our lives and livelihoods to those who came before us. Not just our parents and grandparents, but generations and generations back each of our ancestors were clever and tenacious enough to postpone death until after they reproduced. Think back to every risk and sacrifice that your forefathers and foremothers (is that a word?) made so that you could be alive reading these words right now. If you really let that soak in you will probably appreciate your good fortune. Once you experience that gratitude, turn to my second suggestion for creating meaning this holiday season.

Suggestion #2: Create. The second part of having a meaningful holiday season is to give purpose to the sacrifices of those who came before you. Your ancestors, great-grand-parents, grandparents and yes, possibly even mom and dad, have made tremendous sacrifices so that you could exist, and now that you are here you have a chance to give meaning to their struggles by making the world a little better. This holiday season try to make (not buy) something to brighten someone else’s spirits.  This could be for someone you know or even a complete stranger. Give them some part of you—a card, a toy, a performance, a painting, a piece of music, a drawing, a sculpture, something that comes from your heart that brightens their day.  If you can forge some part of your being into a gift for someone else, you both will feel fuller from the exchange.  Having the opportunity to make someone’s life better and their burden lighter is a gift and talent that every single person, rich or poor, healthy or infirm has the capacity to give.

Just adding those two things to your list this year can make the difference between feeling naughty and nice when the confetti is gone.  So, give it a try.

Happy Holidays to all.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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