10 Tips to Have a Happy Thanksgiving
November 23, 2016 by Dr. Ryan Niemiec ·
Thanksgiving is time to give thanks, and there is a lot of research around the benefits of practicing gratitude (greater happiness, physical and mental health benefits, pathway to a meaningful life, etc.). But, Thanksgiving can also be a time of travel stress, running from place to place and tense family discussions. Here are some important Do’s and Don’ts for you to consider to make this a happy holiday.
- Be thankful from 8AM to 12PM on Thursday. If you’re planning to be thankful for one day this year and then quit, don’t bother. It feels a bit like the guy who walks out of church on Sunday and starts cursing at the weather for being too cold and then yells at other drivers who are going too slow.
- Wait for Thursday. If you think that Thanksgiving will be your catalyst to a whole new approach on gratitude, think again. It’s unlikely that your holiday with family drama, stress with the in-laws, and excessive food and alcohol intake will lead you to new, exciting, and stable patterns of well-being.
- Gorge with gratitude. Eating an enormous amount of food is not a gratitude practice. Gratitude is a virtue, not the vice of gluttony. Gratitude is the opposite of gluttony as it’s about appreciating the little things, being thankful for simplicity, and does not revolve around behaviors of gathering and consuming.
- Skip engagement. Many times people will say “I just need to get through the holidays” or “I can’t wait till it’s over” or “I don’t want to have to deal with Uncle Larry.” Focusing on the stress or what you don’t like will block you from learning and from engaging in important experiences and conversations. Ironically, it will make the time last longer. The best approach is to dive in and engage.
- Forget your strengths. No matter what your plans are for the holidays, be conscious about your signature strengths – those most central to who you are. Strengths blindness is pervasive so chances are you won’t follow this advice. But, it would go a long way if you made a direct plan for how you will use your strengths through potentially difficult encounters.
- Subtract one good thing. If you are interested in boosting gratitude, start by taking something away. Researchers refer to this as mental subtraction and is a way to boost appreciation for what matters most in your life. Imagine your life without your favorite relative, without having a place to go to celebrate the holiday, or without the ability to feed yourself. Reflect on your life without that person or experience for a moment. How would that feel?
- Focus on a “little thing” and savor it completely. Researchers have found that the science of savoring is an important well-being and gratitude booster. For example, bring your attention to the smile of a family member or to one bite of turkey or stuffing. Notice the details, absorb yourself in the feel-good sensations. Savoring is about elongating the positive experience.
- Name 3 blessings each night. At the end of each day this week – and NOT only on Thanksgiving Day – reflect on your day and name 3 things that happened during the day that you are grateful for. Researchers have consistently found this boosts happiness and decreases depression in the long-term.
- Say what you mean. If you’re like me you’ll probably say “happy thanksgiving” 50 times this coming weekend. How many of those times will you be “present” to versus merely saying words in an automatic, mindless way? How many will you be saying with meaning and heart? This is the practice of mindful speech. Focus on the words as you say them. Think about the meaning of what you are saying – are you offering the other person a wish to be happy…an intention for them to be grateful and complete?
- Express appreciation for others’ strengths. The science of appreciation – especially appreciation of the strengths of those close to you – is becoming a hot topic that comes with many benefits for yourself and your relationship.
I hope you follow a couple points on this list and that it either enhances your already-meaningful relationships or acts as a survival guide for those of you heading into a stress zone.
Bao, K. J., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2013). Making it last: Combating hedonic adaptation in romantic relationships. Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(3), 196-206.
Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Gander, F., Proyer, R.T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2013). Strength-based positive interventions: Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being and alleviating depression. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 1241–1259. doi:10.1007/s10902-012-9380-0
Koo, M., Algoe, S. B., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2008). It’s a wonderful life: Mentally subtracting positive events improves people’s affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1217-1224.
Niemiec, R. M. (2012). Mindful living: Character strengths interventions as pathways for the five mindfulness trainings. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(1), 22-33.
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.
Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 25-41.
VIA Institute on Character, home of the free VIA Survey, taken by 4.5 million people.