The Thanksgiving holiday has a troubled history that remains our troubled present. Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation was a patriarchal, overtly religious, plagiarized lie intended to distract Americans from genocide, slavery, and race rioting.
Here we are, 159 years later, still dealing with some of the very same issues.
Today I am putting all that aside to make room for gratitude. I want to celebrate Thanksgiving just because I love feeling thankful.
When I taught high school English, I would end every year’s blog with a post that said something like this:
As I think about it, I want to thank you right now. Seriously. Thank you. You could be doing anything in this moment. I appreciate your giving me the chance to share a couple thoughts with you.
A Useful Reminder
In 2018 I was invited to speak at the MIT Media Lab. The talk was scheduled for the week before my wife and I got married. We made the trip into a prenup honeymoon. It was awesome. We ate clam chowder, visited all the famous historical sites, and saw the Red Sox play the Yankees in Fenway Park.
But just a few minutes after we got to Fenway, the skies opened and the rain poured down. I paid good money for field level seats down the first base line. This was a one-time shot and I worried that the game might be rained out.
Everyone left their seats for the cover of the concourse. Thousands of mostly good-natured, smart-ass fans of both teams crammed in, soggy shoulder to soggy shoulder, and drank beer and ripped each other for wearing the wrong hat and speaking with the wrong accent.
What a night for Open-Source Learning. There are about 417 colleges in the Boston area, so there is a good chance that your bartender and cabby both have advanced degrees. In that moment, everyone was a meteorologist. The truck driver next to me taught me about the doppler algorithms that derive temporal and spatial trends in visualizing precipitation. I shit you not.
My friend Rocco texted me from the North End bar where he works the door: “Give it about 17 minutes. And bring lots of napkins back to your seats because you’ll be sitting in 1/4″ of water.”
17 minutes. On the NOSE. I still don’t know how Rocco did it. But there we were, back in our seats, watching the grounds crew take the tarp off the field. It was glorious.
And then the 20-something kid in front of me says to his date, “I don’t get why I should be thankful about anything.”
Are you kidding me? In this world, you can’t find a reason to be thankful? This marvelous world of baseball and algorithmic storm technology porn? This world, where an epic downpour delays the game for only 17 minutes?!? That is just sad. I winced and thought of former UCLA Speech and Debate Coach Tom Miller, the way he’d scrunch his eyes closed, wrinkle his nose, and – just before completely obliterating your argument – say, “I can give you 263 reasons. Here are 5.”
I can give you 263+ reasons to be thankful. Here are 5.
5 Reasons to Be Thankful
- Grateful people feel better. A 2012 study by Hill, Allemand, and Roberts indicates that grateful people report taking better care of their health and feeling fewer aches and pains.
- Gratitude can help you get a good night’s sleep. Writing for 15 minutes in a gratitude journal before bedtime can help you sleep longer and better, according to research conducted by Digdon and Koble in 2011.
- Gratitude helps us overcome trauma. In a survey of 350 people who had lost their parents, 79% of respondents associated increased gratitude with lower depression, greater appreciation for loved ones, and an overall newfound belief that life is precious. Other studies have associated gratitude with lower rates of PTSD in Vietnam War veterans and improved resilience in coping with the aftermath of 9/11.
- Gratitude increases self-esteem. Do you know any really jealous, resentful people who are truly grateful? Not likely. Gratitude makes us more likely to appreciate other people’s successes – and feel better about ourselves as a result, because we’re not obsessing over what they have that we don’t. A 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology shows that grateful athletes have better self-esteem.
- Expressing gratitude can make you friends. According to Williams and Bartlett (2015), “Recipients of expressions of gratitude were more likely to extend the effort to continue the relationship” with people they’d just met, because expressions of gratitude are associated with warmth, friendliness, and thoughtfulness.
- (Bonus!) Gratitude makes us more receptive learners. According to my admittedly informal lifetime of classroom and interpersonal observations, when people are excited about receiving, they get more out of the gift.
Happy Thanksgiving. Every day.