“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent to all others.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
Can you remember a moment in your life when you felt really bad because you forgot to say thank you to someone? Or do you remember being really angry with someone because they didn’t seem to show any appreciation for your kind gesture or lending a helping hand?
The negative emotions that arise as a result of both of these situations are not always necessarily intense, but the fact that they are there indicates how much we actually value expressing and receiving gratitude.
“What Do We Say?”
Gratitude is a fundamental aspect of human relationships, something that we inherited. Studies of animals that speak of reciprocal altruism, along with neurological and developmental studies of humans, suggest that gratitude is an inherent characteristic of our human experience.
It’s also moderated by society and we have very clear means of passing it on from generation to generation. It is usually instilled very early, primarily through our parents. You can probably remember a time from your childhood when you were firmly guided to say “thank you” when you received a gift or any other form of generosity. You can also probably recall how upset your parents would get if you forgot to say it.
And it’s not just about having good manners. Research suggests that positive reactions to receiving a benefit are not simple expressions of momentary happiness. Rather, they’re a means to spark the desire to give back to others, the community, and the world. Data from this research also shows that gratitude and social integration go hand in hand. Gratitude helps us fit in and build strong relationships.
Aside from conveying the value of being grateful through education and social interaction, we also rely on yearly group activities based on gratitude which strengthen its place in human culture.
Using Customs to Preserve a Culture of Gratitude
For centuries, humans have engaged in festivals based on expressing gratitude. They are popular all over the world and in different cultures, these customs take on different forms. In Germany, they celebrate Erntedankfest. The people of Japan celebrate Kinro Kansha no Hi or the Labor Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving is a monumental part of American culture. It’s a time when we do our best to bring out the good in ourselves and others. There’s a reason why Thanksgiving has remained such an important event in our society. Most likely, it’s because it resonates with something very deep and meaningful to all of us. The message goes far beyond its pilgrim origins and it help us remember the importance of appreciating what we have.
A Modern Day Thanksgiving: Taking the Good with the Bad
Today’s Thanksgiving is a rich blend of various traditions centered around a very simple idea – sharing a delicious feast with friends and family combined with the ritual of taking turns in talking about what we’re grateful for. And sometimes, that simple practice is all it takes to bring out the best in us. It’s not the parade, it’s not the football, it’s not the pardoning of the turkey. They’re all good fun but it’s the expression of gratitude that can give you that honest, warm and fuzzy feeling.
The spirit of Thanksgiving is a wonderful thing but getting into it isn’t easy for everyone. Some consider that planning a big dinner is too stressful, while others simply aren’t huge fans of family gatherings. Lots of us have a pretty hard time during the holidays and are dealing with issues like loneliness, anxiety, depression… It’s not easy to feel thankful or give thanks when you’re feeling down.
In the end, it might be just too much to ask from a holiday. This celebration of gratitude comes only once a year, but all the stuff that makes it hard to embrace the holiday spirit can happen any day of the year.
A Thanksgiving Gratitude Experiment from Nobel
This year, why not experiment with being grateful throughout the day? Way before you start stressing out on whether or not you have enough seating in the house or whether everyone will be able to make it. Hours before you start doubting your cranberry sauce or worry if you’re going to end up stuck in traffic. Before and in between these challenges, make time to actively show appreciation for the little things.
Being grateful takes effort. If you’re lacking inspiration just think about the folks who are working on Thanksgiving, helping everyone else enjoy their holiday to the fullest. Hey, wait a minute! You might be one of those people! If you are – please know that you’re awesome!
And think about all the people who might have contributed to your Thanksgiving dinner without expecting anything in return. People you’ve never met. Think about the sweet old lady from Wisconsin who was kind enough to share her family recipe with the world and helped you knock this year’s stuffing out of the park!
Thanksgiving is a reminder to take a step back and shift our attention to the things that mean the most to us. If we get caught up by small, irrelevant issues that distract us from the bigger picture it makes it no different than any other day of the year. Instead, we invite you to do the exact opposite and take a piece of that Thanksgiving Day spirit into the next day… And the day after that one… And the one after that…
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie
Happy Thanksgiving from the Nobel Family!