Updated: Nov 30, 2020
A friend asked me this morning how New Zealanders celebrate Thanksgiving. I paused before reminding her it's an American holiday and isn't really celebrated here, unless you have an American in 'your group.'
That being said, I did go to a Friendsgiving last week and I'm hosting a Thanksgiving lunch this weekend. Always happy to be the token American at these things. And yes that includes being that person: the one that makes everyone go around the table and say something they're thankful for.
Over the years I've noticed a lot of people here find it very cringe.
But, I find it a little cringe that it's so unnatural and hard for people to express and share what they're thankful for.
In this [insert your 2020 adjective] year we all have SOMETHING we can be grateful for. My plea however, is for everyone to channel the spirit of Thanksgiving everyday. Why? Because it's good for your health.
More gratitude = better health
It turns out that having an attitude of gratitude and consciously recognising the things we are thankful for has tons of positive health effects. The studies are numerous and conclusive: expressing gratitude improves numerous aspects of your life. It can lead to better connections and intimacy, better sleep, increases life satisfaction, shifts our focus, and reduces our fears, stress, and worry.
American psychologist Martin Seligman is credited as being the founder of positive psychology. His research proved we can retrain our brain so we feel happier on a day-to-day basis. In one study he showcases how powerful a simple technique can be on this retraining: write down three things that went well each day, every day, along with an explanation for why each good thing happened.
Gratitude + Empathy + Mindfulness = Happiness
Hugh van Cuylenburg's company, The Resilience Project, is a direct testament to the connection between gratitude and happiness. His research reaffirms that resilience and happiness can be strengthened through three practices: gratitude, empathy and mindfulness. I cannot recommend his book highly enough: The Resilience Project: Finding Happiness Through Gratitude, Empathy, and Mindfulness.
Van Cuylenburg's search for what makes people happy started in his teenage years in Australia. He wanted to understand his sister's mental health struggles. This intensified in his 20's in a remote Indian village where he was working as a teacher. Hugh was capitvated by a young boy, Stanzin, who he credits with teaching him the ultimate lessons in resilience. Stanzin was in the moment, appreciative, and empathic. He cared about others and was truly grateful for everything and everyone he had around him.
Stanzin would often say "dis" (this) and point at something. Dis playground equipment (falling apart and wouldn't pass our safety laws). Dis bowl of rice for lunch (which might have been his only meal for the day). Dis pair of shoes (which had the ends cut off to allow his toes to protrude).
Stanzin was practicing gratitude in real time. He was able to be aware of what was around him (mindfulness), appreciate the good (gratitude), and maintain a focus on others (empathy).
The people of the village weren’t impervious to trauma, sadness, hardship and loss, of course, but they dealt with the vicissitudes of life differently to the way I’d been used to. After three months there, I felt I understood why they were such a happy community. Ultimately, there were three principles they practised every day that were key to their resilient world view and happy disposition: gratitude (the ability to pay attention to what you have instead of worrying about what you don’t have); empathy (the ability to feel what another person is feeling) and mindfulness (the ability to focus on the present moment). Villagers faced daily hardships and pressures, often more acute than most of ours in the West, but they managed their responses differently. - Three steps to resilience
In 2014, Hugh began the "Dis Challenge" in Australia. What is the "Dis Challenge?" Hugh states it's whenever you see something you’re very grateful for – I don’t care where you are or who you’re with – I’d like you to stop, point to it and say ‘Dis!'
The "Dis Challenge" started in schools and has spread into corporate boardrooms and into professional sports teams. Whether you're doing it in real-time or reflecting back on the day (or week, month, year) - stopping to point out what you're grateful for will help your health.
Give thanks / show gratitude
At The Training Practice, we're cognisant of the power an attitude of gratitude can have on all aspects of our health. So, we'll channel Martin Seligman and Stanzin and Americans on Thanksgiving and shout-out our gratitude:
I'm thankful for...
the privilege of living in New Zealand
the technology that means I can connect with family and friends in the States and still be part of their lives
having amazing in-laws. While I miss my parents everyday, I've never felt like I've been missing parents while living overseas. (I'll group my amazing partner in here too!)
the strength I feel after a great Muay Thai class or gym session (and that these are both accessible to me!)
the opportunity to use my strengths at work.
I'm thankful for...
enduring family connections that have overcome distance, divorce, and the occasional delusion
my daughters, both of whom are completely themselves
my clever, funny, kind, and eccentric friends (I think that covers it)
being able to see native plants and birds every single day
finding a fitness class that allows me to dance like no one is watching!
I'm thankful for...
being able to sing to my grandson in Australia
Alan, my husband, and my two girls
my colleagues at work
being able to find new things out by browsing in libraries or searching online
being able to call my friends even when we haven't spoken for a while.