The Thanksgiving holiday can mean lots of things to lots of people. To some, it means traveling home to be with family. It might mean breaking out old recipes to cook, or dredging up old stories to retell around the table. For others, it might mean joining a significant other’s family dinner – meeting new relatives and learning new traditions. For some, it might mean cooking with friends, or even scrapping the kitchen altogether and dining out.
Whatever your holiday means this year, it is bound to revolve around the notion of thankfulness. If someone were to ask you over a plate of turkey and gravy what you are thankful for, you could probably muster up a response – and many of us do. But what does being thankful mean to you year-round?
Recent studies show that feeling sincere gratitude is actually good for us. It might be pretty obvious that gratefulness can improve one’s mental health, but it can also lead to better overall health. According to research led by Paul Mills, people who are grateful also show significant improvement in heart wellness – including reduced risk for heart disease.
Some experts say that people are not born with the ability to be grateful though – it takes practice. The key to this practice comes in three stages: recognizing what you’re grateful for, acknowledging it, and appreciating it. So aside from a carefully crafted Turkey Day response, how can you practice these steps the other 364 days of the year?
Here are a few helpful ideas to get you started:
Keep a gratitude journal. Even if you only write down one or two things a day, this habit can greatly reduce any stress levels you may have. It can also help to reverse any bad days you might have, and keep things in perspective for you.
Distract yourself. If you find yourself focusing your attention on something negative that upsets you, find something around you that pleases you. Whether it’s a painting on the wall, the perfect blend of cream and sugar in your coffee at the moment, or a song playing through the speakers, force your mind to concentrate on it.
Pass it on. Try to give at least one compliment a day. Answer the phone with genuine enthusiasm. Smile when you greet family or coworkers in the morning. By exhibiting an outward appearance of gratitude, it will help you remind yourself to feel grateful.
Keeping gratitude and thankfulness present in your life will not only improve your physical and emotional health, but it can strengthen your relationships. But gratitude doesn’t always come naturally so start making it a habit now. Instead of naming one thing you’re thankful for this holiday, list three. Then list three more the next day. See how far you can get, and see how living a life of gratitude and appreciation can be transformative.
November brings with it a kaleidoscope of fall foliage, cooler temperatures, and our national Thanksgiving holiday, which usually calls to mind the image of golden turkeys, simmering casseroles, and loved ones around a table. November is also recognized as Native American Heritage Month. Because one of the goals of the Dignity & Respect Campaign is to model our 7 Pillars of behaviors, we’d like to focus on one of these principles in conjunction with this holiday: building cultural awareness.
The history of this month of remembrance actually began way back in May of 1916, when the governor of New York approved an American Indian Day. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush took this a step further and declared November “National American Indian Heritage Month” which has been ongoing since 1994.
The purpose of this month-long dedication is to recognize the historical contributions that Native Americans have made to the growth of the United States, and also to raise awareness about the tribes that still exist today. According to the 2010 census, there are over 5.2 million citizens who identified as American Indian and/or Alaska Native. Even though this number might seem small (around 9.7% of total American residents), it’s actually very significant because these citizens represent a rich community of culture and history that is woven into the tapestry of the United States.
What can you do?Cultural awareness is founded in knowledge and education. In order to treat people the way they deserve to be treated, we need to educate ourselves about populations and cultures that are different from ours. So make this month all about learning! Read about the history of the Native Americans that inhabited our country long before it was ever the United States. Learn the differences between the various tribes and how many of them still honor the traditions of their ancestors.
The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. – as well as the National Archives and the Smithsonian – is hosting a range of events throughout November. If you don’t live close to the D.C. area, you can read up on other ways to participate: trying new recipes, for instance, or watching an educational film. The Smithsonian Education group has also compiled a list of resources for teachers interested in educating their students on the history and heritage of Native Americans.
Dignity & RespectThe Dignity & Respect Campaign as a whole believes in working towards creating a better world for all of us to live in together. Regardless of whether or not you take an active stance in Native American Heritage Month, we hope that you will both appreciate and respect this special holiday. Your awareness will help to create a stronger and more compassionate America.
To echo the sentiments of the United States Department of the Interior: “Many voices– one journey– join us!”