Why Thanksgiving is good for your mental health

Thanksgiving is a day dedicated to giving thanks- showing appreciation and gratitude for our blessings. But many times, other things take center stage- things like turkey, cranberries, and football. 

Yes, those are good things- but they aren't the core of Thanksgiving. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, or having trouble with the recent time change, I have good news- practicing gratitude is great for your mental health, it doesn't take much time, and it's free!

Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
— Charles Dickens

Studies have shown the positive effects of gratitude, including increased optimism, decreased depression and aggression, increased self-esteem, improved motivation, and healthier relationships. 

As you prepare for your Thanksgiving celebration, take some time to consider the good parts about your life. This is not being dismissive of the very real and difficult parts.  On the contrary, it is a practice of seeing through the negative into the positive.

I've mentioned before that one of my favorite psychologists is Dr. Martin Seligman. A key part of his positive psychology research has been on gratitude. In his book Flourish, he describes a daily practice of gratitude: 

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?” For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write “because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes” or “because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.” Or if you wrote, “My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” you might pick as the cause … “She did everything right during her pregnancy.”
— Dr. Martin Seligman

So here is my challenge for you- try this gratitude practice each night leading up to Thanksgiving. Notice how you feel as you begin, and how you feel in the days getting close to the holiday. When Thanksgiving arrives, notice where your attention goes and what is taking up space in your mind. My guess is that although the hustle and bustle of the celebration will still be there, you will feel more at peace, less anxious, and sincerely grateful for the blessings in your life.