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3 Ways to make your Thanksgiving truly meaningful

...and improve your sleep, brain and heart health

I love Thanksgiving! I was born and raised in Austria and, while we do celebrate harvesting season around this time of the year, we don’t quite have such an ingrained tradition as the day of Thanksgiving. With my entire family still living in Austria, I have been fortunate to be welcomed into so many people’s homes on this very special day over the last 17 years, experiencing not just the best foods but their big hearts opening their doors to someone they often hadn’t even met before.

While the meaning of Thanksgiving originated as a celebration of the first harvest, I find this time of the year to be a wonderful reminder of the many reasons we can be thankful. Most of us have people in our lives that love and care for us, we have a roof over our head, food on the table, a job that allows us to provide for ourselves and our family, and the freedom to make choices and to follow our dreams.

Often we get distracted by life’s hick ups (illness, traffic, picking the wrong checkout line at the grocery store,…) or by spending too much time worrying about the things we hear in the news (PS: statistically speaking, the world has never been as safe as it is today), and our negative-bias brain makes us linger on circumstances that seem to overshadow all the goodness in this world. But for this one day, we agree to put all the worrying and grumbling on the side (at least most families) and come together to give thanks for what we have.

Having had the opportunity to experience different traditions, I personally find that there are certain habits that can make Thanksgiving truly meaningful. I encourage you to pick at least one of those and I promise you, it will make your celebration even more special.

1. Write ‘thank you’ cards: Have you ever received an unexpected note from someone expressing their appreciation for you? Bam! You smile from ear to ear and your heart feels warm and fuzzy. You likely hold on to that card for some time and read it again and again. You can provide that gift to those people in your life that contribute to your happiness throughout the year. Yes, you might not get to write a card for everyone, and maybe you won’t wright an essay but even a few lines can have an amazing impact.

Tip: I try to be specific about what it is they are doing that brings joy into my life. It could be someone’s support and encouragement, someone’s open ear listening to you, or their love for you. I find that being explicit shows that you have sincerely thought about your words.

2. Volunteering: Giving back to those in need not only helps the individuals you are giving your time, but also gives you a sense of purpose. By working with people, you can immediately improve their lives. Even if you are just with them for a couple of hours, your engagement can brighten up their mood for days and give hope that there is a brighter future. You may also lend your time to the beautification of your community, cleaning up parks or planting trees. Think about it, your contribution can be witnessed for weeks, months and possibly years.

Tip: To get started visit this website to find different volunteering opportunities in your area. Also check out your local neighborhood and park websites.

3. Sharing gratitude around table: I have wonderful memories being at my friend Lisa’s house in Memphis many years ago. I don’t think that her parents had actually met me before I showed up at their house for Thanksgiving but I was warmly welcomed to the family. As the many amazing foods were brought to the table, and I thought we were about to dig in, Lisa’s dad asked us to hold hands around the table and to share something we were grateful for. Hearing everybody’s words of appreciation for different circumstances in their lives just made my heart melt, and I think it was the first time I truly appreciated the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

Now, if you still need another reason to practice gratitude around this time of the year (or every single day!), know that research has established that a gratitude practice brings a whole host of physical and psychological benefits. Grateful people are happier, enjoy stronger relationships and are more likely to be optimistic, determined, and empathetic. Gratitude has also been linked to increased immunity, better sleep, and improved brain and heart health

On that note, happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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