Thanksgiving may appear to be just the usual family ritual with friends and family gathered to give thanks.
However, when we look more closely, we can observe those involved enjoying themselves while relaxing in the company of those they love. On Thanksgiving, when words and thoughts are expressed in thanks and gratitude for all the good that has been bestowed, mental health is being enhanced. When we focus on the positive things in our life, we become more optimistic. “Research shows that seeing the glass as half full leads to real physical, psychological and emotional benefits – benefits that are available to everyone.” (L. MacDonald).
Another mental health booster experienced by those gathered for Thanksgiving is knowing that you belong.
When in the company of family and friends on Thanksgiving, we experience “belonging.” Those gathered may not be blood relatives but can be family of choice, bonded by shared goals or beliefs.
It is with this group that we know and love, that hope for the future unfolds. This is our community, they rejoice in our triumphs, share our accomplishments and will mourn our passing. With them we have a deep bond and experience “being home” in their company. There is a feeling of ease, contentment and well-being when “we belong.” We can kick off our shoes and relax, we are home. It is these enduring relationships with their mutual support which provide positive mental health. “When you feel you belong, everything works better from your immune system to your jokes.” (Emery 1999).
Hope and trust in the future is strengthened when we gather together again. There is mutual concern and caring for members of our family and we know we will be there for one another in the future. “The shelter of belonging empowers you; it confirms in you a stillness and sureness of heart. You are able to endure pressure and confusion; you are sure of the ground on which you stand.” (J. O’Donohue 1999).
The ritual of Thanksgiving provides the occasion to strengthen and nourish our core relationships.We become energized and rejuvenated through the exchange of hospitality and communication. This experience of sociability is one of the qualities needed to prevent crumbling in the face of adversity. It is an attribute that will provide resilience when future challenges arise.
Thanksgiving can seem very ordinary but under the surface we are not only “giving thanks” but we are also receiving. As we recall with gratitude all the “good things” we are becoming optimistic for the future.
Gathering with those we love, we experience a sense of “belonging.” This connectedness with our loved ones produces hope for the future, develops confidence that we can bounce back from adversity and we are rejuvenated through the exchange of conversation and hospitality.
All the mental health benefits can be produced even before partaking of the meal which will bestow great physical sustenance and enjoyment.