Thanksgiving is a joyous time centered around family, food, and of course, giving thanks. With life seemingly becoming faster paced by the day—whether that be due to technological advances or simply getting older—I find the celebration of Thanksgiving increasingly more essential in reminding us all to appreciate what we have.
The other 364 days of the year can seem to go by in a blur of constant forward motion—everyone always striving toward the next goal. Instead of channeling all of our appreciation into one day, however, we could all benefit from putting a little more effort into giving thanks during the rest of the year. Being thankful doesn’t stop with Thanksgiving.
Recognizing what you’re thankful for in daily life requires a certain level of present mindfulness that takes effort to obtain. As cliché as it may sound, I really advocate for having a present-focused outlook on life. Yes, people should also be conscious of future aspirations and possibilities, but so often those thoughts lead to a devaluing of present life. In a society that is so preoccupied with end results such as buying a house or getting a certain job position, it is easy to lose sight of the process, much less enjoy it.
As college students, that future-oriented focus is even more acute. We are constantly focused on our “careers,” which for the most part do not exist yet. Although it is undeniably important to think about careers, the extent to which this thinking detracts from our present lives can be concerning. Even more pressingly, with more access to others’ lives through social media and an increasingly material culture in general, we compare ourselves to one another more and more, to the point where we unproductively long for what we currently have.
What does it say about our society that Black Friday is the literal day after Thanksgiving? The whole country gathers for a day to appreciate what we already have in our lives, only to turn around and fight each other over cheap deals in the height of materialism. People take their lives into their hands when entering a mall on Black Friday. Maybe “the biggest shopping day of the year” could wait a least a few days? Some stores are even worse and start sales on Thanksgiving. Before you know it, Black Friday will be a week-long event that goes right through Thanksgiving day.
I too get excited for Christmas after Thanksgiving, which includes buying gifts, but I refuse to go Black Friday shopping. Now, gift giving is great. Thoughtful gifts are a way for people to show their appreciation for others. But it’s the mindless frenzy of Black Friday that seems so sacrilegious to me—the gluttonous attitude toward things. Having Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving dilutes the very meaning of the holiday.
I have personally worked to be more mindful of the present over the past few years or so and have felt a significant difference in my approach to daily life. Instead of constantly looking to the weekend or an idea of what the future may be like—really anything that is different from the present—I more consciously integrate reminders of what I am thankful for in my everyday routine. I find that taking moments throughout the day to acknowledge blessings encourages a more positive and constructive mindset, which subsequently makes life more enjoyable in the daily “grind.”
A study at Johns Hopkins Medicine found people with more positive outlooks were one-third less likely to have cardiovascular issues. In the study, Lisa Yankek, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins, suggests “practicing reframing” as a way to become more positive.
Measures of positivity include cheerfulness, energy, anxiety levels, and satisfaction with life overall.
Yankek offers an example of commuter anxiety and anger as a prime instance for reframing. “Instead of stressing about a traffic jam, for instance, appreciate the fact that you can afford a car and get to spend a few extra minutes listening to music or the news, accepting that there is absolutely nothing you can do about the traffic.” While this example may seem unrealistic to some, the times when I have tried to reframe situations like this always end up improving my mood.
With Thanksgiving coming up, make sure to really think about what you are grateful for, but also try to carry those thoughts over into the everyday. Getting into a habit of giving thanks is less laborious and more rewarding than it may seem. I truly think people feel more content when they shift toward a more present outlook of gratitude.