Thanksgiving is on the second Monday in October which we celebrate the fall harvest and other blessings of the past year. The day Canadian celebrate Thanksgiving is different from the United States which is usually on the fourth Thursday of November. This year, we celebrate our Thanksgiving on October 11, 2021. Thanksgiving is the day of family celebration and give thanks for their previous year’s blessings. Canadians may gather for their Thanksgiving feast during the long weekend, and the traditional foods served include turkey, roast beef, ham, sweet corn, and pumpkin pie.
History of Thanksgiving
According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, indigenous peoples in North America have a history of holding communal feasts in celebration of the fall harvest. The first national Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated in the Province of Canada in 1859. The holiday was intended for the “public and solemn” recognition of God’s mercies. A national civic holiday rather than a religious one, was held to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from an illness. The first official Thanksgiving in Canada was observed as an annual event on November 6, 1879. The most recent date change to the second Monday in October was largely a result of the first and second world wars, which we officially remember each year on November 11 (Remembrance Day). This was so that the two holidays would not fall on the same weekend. Most Canadian embraced the change of the date to October since that period better coincides with the actual completion of harvest in much of the country.
How Thanksgiving related with our Mental Well-Being
As mentioned earlier, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and gratitude. The simple act of expressing gratitude has been researched and results had been promising to our mental health, which indicated that performing gratitude acts on a consistent basis positively impact our physical and emotional health.
What is gratitude? Robert A. Emmons, PhD, defines gratitude as an affirmation of goodness and a recognition of goodness outside of ourselves. To supplement this definition, the author would like to add the goodness even inside of ourselves, which is crucial in our self image. There are 3 stages of gratitude: (1) Recognition: recognizing the goodness from others and ourselves; (2) Acknowledgement: acknowledging the goodness and benefits; and (3) Appreciation: emotionally appreciating the benefits and the givers (others and yourself).
“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.”
- Germany Kent
From a neuroscience point of view, our brain secretes neurotransmitters that affect how we feel. There are several neurotransmitters released in our bloodstream when we express gratitude: Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin. All of these neurotransmitters trigger positive emotions, facilitates trusting, prosocial behaviours and enhances our optimistic thinking. Researchers observed brain activities with fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), and found out that gratitude activates multiple regions of the brain, including those for moral reasoning, fairness, and empathy.
With a scientific-evidence based, giving thanks bring in multiple benefits:
Improves physical health
A 2011 study (Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being) showed that writing down a few gratitude notes before bed enhanced a better and longer sleep. A 2012 study (Personality and Individual Differences) indicated that people who express gratitude had less aches and pain. A 2015 study by Mills P. (Spirituality in Clinical Practice) found cardiac patients who worked on gratitude journals for eight weeks showed reductions in levels of several inflammatory biomarkers. Overall, grateful individuals are more prone to doing more exercises which contributes to a healthier body.
Improves psychological well-being
A 2006 study on Vietnam war veterans indicated higher level of gratitude correlates with a lower rates of post traumatic stress disorder, and a lower level of stress and depression and a higher level of social support in a 2008 study. Gratitude blocks toxic and negative emotions (depression and anxiety), which in turn helps to promote positive feelings.
Enhances empathy and reduces aggression
Empathy associated with positive emotions which include pride, joy, happiness, and motivation. Gratitude and empathy are correlated, and that compassion is derived from empathy. Compassion born kindness. UK professor, Dr. DeWall had done numerous studies which all indicated that gratitude is linked to lower aggression. According to DeWall, gratitude motivates people to express sensitivity and concern for others ad stimulates pro-social behaviour.
Rash, Matsuba & Prkachin, 2011 study showed that individuals who completed 4-week gratitude contemplation program reported higher self-esteem. The more grateful a person is, the more s/he recognized and acknowledged her/his better circumstances, and the better s/he feels about herself/himself.
Enhances mental strength
Increased evidence showing that gratitude is one of the factors that helps to build better resilience when dealing with difficult and challenging life experiences. A 2003 study (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. 2015 study also found that gratitude protects children of ill parents from anxiety and depression, finding the positives in their lives can help deal with difficult life situation easier.
A 2013 study by Algoe, Fredrickson & Gable found that expressing gratitude to significant others results in improved quality in the relationship. This finding also applied to friendship (Lambert & Fincham, 2011)
“The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.”
- Douglas Wood
How to practice Gratitude?
It is not difficult to practice gratitude, all you need is commitment. Here are some ways to practice:
‘Thank You’ card
Prepare a unique ‘Thank You’ card for each person at least once per week and state what you are grateful of.
Spend a few minutes to drop down things that you are grateful of that day before you go to bed.
Prepare a jar where you write down 3 things per day that you are grateful of in little pieces of paper, and place them inside the jar. When you come across very down time, open the jar and read some of the pieces of paper that you wrote. That helps to remind yourself that good things happened in life.
Gratitude self talk
Telling yourself what you are grateful of about yourself. Try look at small things, for example, grateful that I am punctual to work, grateful that I walk beside my friend when she was sad, or grateful that I kept my promise.
Saying ‘thank you’ seems to be a simple word, but sometimes, living in such a busy and self-centred society has led people to forget such an easy but powerful attitude. We often tend to focus on negative things, negative feelings and negative thoughts, which can bring on depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, resentment and other negative energy. Gratitude helps people to connect to something positive. Learn to count the blessings instead of focusing on burdens. You might be in great distress or in the very low of your life time, try switching your mind to see something you can appreciate, for example, seeing a blossom flower, hearing birds’ chirping or even just appreciate the fact that you can see and hear. We can make a choice for ourselves, whether we want to stay in our lows or be active to stand on positive ground.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things”
- Robert Brault