My daughters—one four years old and the other 16 months—couldn’t wait to go for our Saturday walks around the neighborhood in the weeks before Halloween. They found the witches, skeletons, ghouls, and ghosts in every front-yard display utterly captivating (though my wife and I inwardly cringed at some of the gorier details). My oldest even had her favorite “spooky houses” and she made sure we visited them every trip.
As November arrived and people packed up their Halloween displays, I began to notice something on our walks: nothing took their place. I’m seeing very few turkeys and fewer Pilgrims. Harvest baskets are a rare sight. Thanksgiving decorations of any kind are few and far between. People seem to be waiting for December so they can get their Santas, lights, and Christmas trees up—if they even wait at all. It’s hard to shake the impression that Thanksgiving is becoming an afterthought. A day off from work, a big meal, and little more.
And this impression is only strengthened by the omnipresent juggernaut that Black Friday, combined with its offshoot, Cyber Monday, has become. People like to shame businesses for opening on Thanksgiving to start their pre-Black Friday deals, but you know what, they only do it because people will come. In droves.
It’s almost as if Thanksgiving can’t get over fast enough so that we can get to our awesome deals. I find it ironic that a holiday which is all about being thankful for what you have is not even over before people start indulging in their greed for what they want next. And let’s be real: lots of people are eyeing hot-ticket items for themselves as much as seeking gifts for others. It’s like a cosmic, bitter joke.
Something is being lost here. Something important. Giving thanks, expressing your gratitude for what you have and the people in your life—this is not a meaningless platitude. It’s actually vital to our wellbeing, and yes, to our success.
In recent years, this has become increasingly better documented by science (not to mention the longstanding guidance of any spritual tradition). Read any book on what leads to happiness or look over any study. I can all but guarantee that gratitude will figure prominently. One of the more popular books on the subject from recent years is by long-term neurologist, Oliver Sacks, who wrote four essays on the importance of thankfulness in his life that were published together in a little volume called Gratitude.
People often look to the studies of psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough for evidence of the benefits of gratitude. In one investigation, they had three groups of subjects write a recap of their weeks, but with different emphases. One group was instructed to write about the annoyances they had experienced, the second was told to focus broadly on things that had affected them, and the third was asked to write about the things they were grateful for that had happened to them. Ten weeks passed, and the group who focused on what they were grateful for in their writing performed head and shoulders above the other groups in terms of positivity and feelings of wellbeing. Major side benefit: they were also more motivated to work out.
Advisor William Smith wrote a Horsesmouth classic many years back on the topic of the power of gratitude and the happiness it engenders: “Gratitude Makes You Healthier and Wealthier, Say Scientists.”
Here’s my favorite observation from his article:
An advisor may say, “Don’t worry about whether I feel happy or grateful, just tell me how to make more money!” Dear reader, that is exactly what we are doing. Grateful and happy advisors become stalwart, charismatic, and unflappable masters of their own destiny. That grateful and confident hard-charger will swim upstream with ease while the mildly depressed or anxious advisor bobs in the whirlpool of adverse circumstances.
It’s a fabulous article by a fabulous writer, and I encourage you to take the time to read the entire thing.
It seems that gratitude channels our minds away from the negative, petty, and anxious thoughts that can keep us stuck in a torpid state of inaction and doubt. Instead it focuses our mental energy on positive and productive thoughts that naturally move us to take action. If they put gratitude into a pill, stores wouldn’t be able to keep it on the shelves!
So why do I feel like the holiday that celebrates this super-power emotion, Thanksgiving, has become the Rodney Dangerfield of holidays and is getting no respect? It just doesn’t make sense.
Hopefully your Thanksgiving with your loved ones will be full of the actual giving of thanks, and not people with their noses buried in their phones looking for the latest Black Friday deal alert. The cynical may roll their eyes when you share what you’re thankful for at the table, but in time they may come to realize how beneficial it is to recognize now all that you have to be grateful for. Giving thanks is important. Thanksgiving is important.
And if you want to read more about Thanksgiving’s message and the power of gratitude, check out these Horsesmouth articles that explore this topic of reshaping your life for the better by being thankful for what you have now.