A Tradition of Thanks

By Brittany Dingler '15, PHE Thanksgiving2

Nearly four-hundred years after what we consider the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621 at Plymouth Colony, the average American embraces this adapted tradition with friends and family around a dinner table, passing stuffing until stuffed.  Whether Thanksgiving appears as a festive feast or simply a time to step back from the Skidmore bubble and breathe before the wave of finals hits, most of us would agree that thanks, or the gentle concept of gratitude, pokes its head up on the third Thursday of each November, even if it’s fated to become a thing of the distant past once we arrive back on campus.

How is gratitude perceived during Thanksgiving?  According to Professor Mark Rye in the Psychology department who has done research in the field of positive psychology and gratitude, “Thanksgiving provides us with a wonderful opportunity to spend time with loved ones and to consider what we are grateful for. Some people make it a regular practice to count their blessings every day, and there is evidence that this can have a positive impact on their lives.”  Two students, however, admit that they could use a bit more “gratitude gravy” on their Thanksgiving turkey. Tori Eldridge ‘16, believes that “gratitude has a much smaller role in thanksgiving than its roots might imply” and worries that “a few nice words might be shared but Turkey Day is a much more commercialized holiday than it seems.”  Sam Skott ’15, believes that this tradition of “thanks” not only holds for her big family, but is also important in “reminding us there are many things in our everyday lives to be grateful for, even if you think that your luck has been less than stellar lately.”  Skott admits that she, like many of us, “takes for granted many aspects of her that other people would be extremely thankful for.” 

If you’re looking to incorporate gratitude into your daily lives and not just during Thanksgiving or whatever holidays in which you choose to partake, follow the lead of Professor Mark Rye. Professor Rye states that, “keeping a gratitude journal involves spending 10 to 15 minutes each day to write about what you are grateful for.”

According to Professor Rye, the gratitude letter is recommended by Positive Psychology guru Martin Seligman who suggests “writing gratitude letters to people you are thankful for” or, for a more intimate experience, having a “face to face meeting where you read the letter aloud” even if that means over Skype.  The third gratitude intervention Professor Rye recommends, is a gratitude partner, “just as having an exercise partner can keep you motivated to achieve your workout goals, a gratitude partner can help you stay motivated to focus on your blessings.”

So why should anyone do this?  Why should we consider implementing this positive psychology concept into post-holiday life?  According to Professor Rye, “psychologists have found that gratitude interventions can have beneficial effects for both your physical and mental well-being.”  Specifically, according to the Greater Good program at UC Berkley, those who practice gratitude on a regular basis are more likely to have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and higher levels of joy, optimism, and happiness. 

For some, incorporating gratitude consistently may seem daunting.  Perhaps it could be made less so, however, by incorporating just one of the methods above and by following the lead of Eldridge who finds daily gratitude “in the little moments or interactions: the crisp breeze when I step outside, the sun shining through my curtains in the morning, a friend going out of their way to say hi. These moments make me feel happy and grateful to be alive and well enough to be experiencing them.”  To end with the most basic kind of gratitude, a nice start to being thankful for even the little things, students were asked to think about the Thanksgiving foods and traditions for which they are most grateful.  Skott looks forward to eating stuffing and simply getting to see her whole family.  Eldridge looks forward to her dad’s pies and hearing what her family is thankful for as they go around that table and reflect on the past year before we eat.  In the true spirit of modern-day Thanksgiving, however, she also admits that she’s thankful for the end of this sharing time so she can finally eat. 

Happy Thanksgiving from the Peer Health Educators  - be safe, be healthy, and be thankful.    

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