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Put the thanks back into Thanksgiving

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With the holiday season upon us starting with Thanksgiving, it may suddenly become one of the most stressful times of the year. Between the long-distance travel, shopping, cooking, hosting and oftentimes hectic extended family visits, it’s hard to remember to take pause and just “give thanks”. To lessen the tensions of holiday expectations, there are things that you can do to enhance the gratitude (and enjoyment!) quotient of the day…which is important not only for mental health, but for physical health as well.

Gratitude is bonding and allows us to meet difficult situations with less stress. In fact, difficult situations may stimulategratitude. Gratitude offers the ability to buffer us against stress, reducing post-traumatic stress. Gratitude allows families and good friends to develop a sense of belonging, especially in the face difficult situations.

So how can we learn to foster an atmosphere of gratitude, blessing each other and the earth we live upon, even in the stressful situation of a Thanksgiving dinner with some difficult family members? Here are five suggestions:

1. Shop the local farmer’s market for food grown by local farmers who work is not only to grow food but also build soil. This food connects your community and is a blessing to eat. Your support of local farmers is a blessing to them.

2. Make your holiday food preparation an event in itself. Don’t squeeze shopping and meal preparation between your usual tasks. Take breaks with a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy yourself. Remember to prepare and cook with love.

3. Begin the meal with a blessing. Ask each person to say one thing that brings joy to him or her or that he/she is grateful for. Hold hands in the circle of the table. It matters that you begin the meal in reverence and gratitude.

4. Remember your favorite Thanksgiving. After dessert, hand out pens and paper and have everyone write a short paragraph about their favorite Thanksgiving memory. Read these aloud to each other.

5. As you clean up, review the meal and the conversation. Even dishwashing can be a time to reflect on gratitude for those dear friends and family in your life who shared Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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