Thanksgiving brings about a ritual of self-assessment for many residents, often performed out loud at the dinner table in response to a simple prompt: “What are you thankful for this year?”
Family members and friends take turns counting their blessings.
It turns out that there are a lot of great things going on in people’s lives.
The practice can bring about an epiphany when things are bleak, with some of us realizing for the first time in months, or perhaps since last Thanksgiving, how lucky we truly are.
Even after tragedies, such as the death of a spouse or parent, there is usually much to be grateful for.
And this Thanksgiving chatter seems precisely the sort of tradition we need to combat the year 2020, with its global pandemic, wildfires, rampant unemployment and political divisiveness.
Many qualities make “Turkey Day” amazing. Unless you’re in charge of the turkey, which is generally the largest and most complex thing American cooks will prepare all year, the holiday brings a low-pressure environment.
People can focus on enjoying time with their loved ones, with or without football on the tube.
Thanksgiving remains a holiday decidedly unambitious except for the heaping helpings that one uncle will dish up for seconds or even thirds. Why did he conquer the Mount Everest of mashed potatoes? Because it was there.
Like that overstuffed uncle, the fourth Thursday in November simply exists, bathed in a warm glow.
The holiday even remains amazingly immune to commercialization, except for Snoopy greeting cards and themed napkins and the like. There are no sexy pilgrim costumes, at least not in the stores that we frequent, nor is there pressure to buy that perfect gift for someone.
Turkey Day also has appeal for many mid-Willamette Valley residents because it serves as the start to the Christmas season, the most wonderful time of the year. There’s a palpable sense of anticipation as, once Thanksgiving dinner is complete, yuletide music can be played and Christmas cookies can be served. (We realize some family members are pushing this unofficial deadline this year, and with all that 2020 has brought, we don’t begrudge them. Nor do we find fault with neighbors who put up over-the-top holiday light displays the day after Halloween.)
But the reflection that occurs on Thanksgiving is what makes Turkey Day great.
Residents also evaluate their lives during other holidays, but in ways that feel different. Christmas results in lists of things we lack and need. New Year’s Day brings resolutions to better ourselves and improve our lives.
But Thanksgiving isn’t about what we want. This is a holiday solely about gratitude, about expressing appreciation for the things we already have.
As it turns out, there’s quite a bit of research suggesting that sort of analysis is good for us. People who take time to reflect on the good things in their lives also report high life satisfaction levels, are often less materialistic and actually seem to recover more quickly from illnesses.
Expressing thanks in a thoughtful manner also can lift the spirits of those around you, since they may be partly responsible for your happiness and successes large and small.
So remember to take stock of the good things in your life on Thursday, whether those are people, experiences or even things such as good health. Don’t take them for granted. And express gratitude.
At our papers, we’re thankful for our family and friends who would bend over backwards to help us out.
Likewise, we’re thankful for residents, organizations and public agencies who have given countless hours or have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help out during this difficult year. There’s a real sense of community and togetherness in the mid-Willamette Valley in response to the adversity we’ve faced.
We’re also thankful for the spirit of innovation and improvisation that has emerged during the pandemic. As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. We’ve had some awfully fine lemonade this year.