Three ways to use gratitude to relieve holiday suffering and deepen your connection to yourself and the folks around you.
Thanksgiving can be a giant pain in the ass, no matter how you carve it.
And if you feel like hell, you have even more to think about. Specifically, how to treat your body better so you can feel well.
Why does making healthy choices feel so hard during the holidays?
In a word, stress.
Stress is a handy nervous system response that keeps us from falling off a cliff or shaking hands with a bear, so we can keep our DNA moving forward.
Stress keeps us alert on the Long Island Expressway so we can arrive unscathed to Thanksgiving dinner.
And if that was all it did, we’d celebrate stress with a holiday all its own.
But for most of us, stress leads to suffering.
Like when we’re stuck in holiday traffic behind some brake-happy asshat in a Chevy Impala and then the ol’ brain starts replaying the fight we had with Mom, and then we remember with a wave of regret and sorrow that Dad is dead, and that – oh right – he was too drunk to love us properly, which must mean we’re worthless and that nothing we do will ever be good enough no matter how hard we try.
While stress is a natural, necessary, finite experience, suffering – the white hot torture of forever living and reliving past and future pain – is optional. And thank god, because when we’re suffering, making strong choices isn’t just hard, it can seem just plain stupid.
Knowing full well that we’re sabotaging our commitment and health, we reach for the candied roll we promised ourselves we wouldn’t eat, butter that sucker, and destroy it.
Or we reach for the wine.
Or the pie.
Down goes the sugar, up goes the story.
‘See?’ we think. ‘It’s hopeless. I’ll never change, and trying to change is just stupid. I’ve already messed up, so screw it.’
Soon we grab another.
Maybe we switch to something else, like tiny scoops of everything. Two rounds. And then maybe offer to help clean up. And then maybe sneak more in the kitchen.
Somewhere in there, the suffering doesn’t register anymore.
You can feel better this Thanksgiving
This Thanksgiving, neutralize your suffering with gratitude.
I’m not talking about dinner-time, round-robin, “Tell us what you’re grateful for” gratitude (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
I’m talking about meaningful, bond-strengthening gratitude.
Gratitude grounded in and expressed by your skin and bones and muscles.
Gratitude that can ratchet down the suffering, no matter what the holidays, the family, or the L.I.E. throw your way.
Three Exercises in Gratitude
1- Say a grateful ‘Hello.’
Opening with “Hey, how are you?” when you arrive doesn’t tend to light people up, but “Hey! Thanks for being here!” might. When they smile back, you’ll feel the traffic tension ease up. Plus, expressing gratitude that a person is here, now is a great way to invite a deeper sense of connection with friends and family (yes, even yours).
2- Say it like you mean it.
You’re committed to taking better care of yourself this Thanksgiving, so when someone gives you a perfect chance to do just that, big thanks are in order. When someone offers you something you know you’ll feel better without, try saying an enthusiastic “No, but thank you!” Saying those words in a strong voice will help you feel empowered, and like you own your choices, instead of them owning you.
3- Give fully. Then say ‘Thanks.’
Good hugs release oxytocin, feel like heaven, and make even the briefest interactions feel more…real. To give a great hug, stand foot-to-foot, and enter the hug with your arms in the lower position. Bend your arms up so your elbows are at the huggee’s sides, and your open hands are pressed into their upper back. Use your forearms and hands to press her torso firmly into yours. Take one full breath, and release with a genuine “Thank you!”
Express gratitude early and often. It will tone down the screaming demon in your head, strengthen the bond you feel to the lucky people in your life, and empower you to show up for yourself and your body this holiday season.
Hell, you may even enjoy yourself.