While most of the traditions in which I take part bring me closer to the important people in my life, it occurred to me recently that these traditions are gross misinterpretations of what the holidays were originally designated to celebrate.Thanksgiving was first observed by European settlers in the United States as both a harvest festival and a religious observance. In its earliest forms, it was often a day of fasting. When the holiday was celebrated with a feast—which only happened in years when the harvest was generous—the meal consisted of foods native to America that were new to the European settlers. Given the New England climate and the technology of the mid-17th Century, these early Thanksgiving traditions were truly about giving thanks for things that couldn’t be counted on. We say grace before our meal, and I do feel grateful for the food, but it is quite a different kind of thanks knowing that grocery stores are open 24-hours throughout the holiday weekend.
Something has been lacking from my holiday traditions. My Thanksgiving was in need of repair.
As any fan of this website would do, I turned to positive psychology for an answer. Gratitude is one of the most researched and most lauded strengths investigated by the field (e.g., Gratitude – The Secret to Getting Back Up, Taking Positive Psychology to Work: The Role of Gratitude, The Energy of Gratitude), and it has no better place in American culture than today; Thanksgiving is Gratitude Day! My set of Thanksgiving traditions, albeit cosy and harmless, was missing meaningful and personal gratitude. So this year I set out to establish a new Gratitude Day tradition: to compile a list of one hundred things I am sincerely grateful for within the past year.
In order to maintain some authenticity, I required that each list item be something personal (I couldn’t be grateful that puppies exist) and non-obvious (I couldn’t be grateful for the air I breathe). I was quite intimidated to start the list, fearing that I may have a very difficult time getting through it. About a dozen or so came right out, as things that I had been thinking about while conceiving the list idea in the first place, including a handful of poignant conversations with close friends and the gorgeous night sky I saw in Oregon earlier this fall on my long bike trip down the West Coast.
I intend to uphold the creation of this list as an annual tradition on Gratitude Day. Now that I am more aware of how fortunate I am, I feel better prepared to face the coming weeks of Christmas insanity with a clear head. I highly recommend this exercise for anyone seeking a positive-psychology-inspired way to reconnect with the deeper meanings and older traditions of the holiday season.
Happy Gratitude Day!