Despite the shopping chaos that follows Thanksgiving, celebrating the holiday still comes with many benefits. From getting the family together, to having a (hopefully) healthy meal, and the actual act of being thankful, Thanksgiving can help us de-stress, feel happier and become healthier.
1) Gratitude helps our well being
Being thankful during Thanksgiving is a bit obvious — thank is in the holiday name after all. But sharing a moment of gratitude can easily be forgotten in the throes of meal preparation and social chaos.
However, several studies suggest that seizing opportunities to express thankfulness for the favors and fortunes within our lives improves our mental outlook and physical health — even when we don’t feel there is much to be thankful for.
For example, a 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that daily exercise and creating a list of things you’re grateful for coincides with a happier outlook on life, more supportive social behaviors, and a greater sense of positivity.
Gratitude also correlates with emotional stability after experiencing personal or communal loss. A study by WebMD reports that gratitude can help increase a person’s sense of belonging, and decrease feelings of stress.
Plus, a 2010 study by the University of North Carolina shows that expressing thanks for the “little things” that family members or relationship partners do can increase our happiness and relationship satisfaction, further removing feelings of isolation.
2) Family time can improve our emotional, physical health
Having family and friends over for the holidays can either be a chaotic situation or a lovely one. Which scenario happens depends on who you invite and how well you prepare for their arrival.
So long as you don’t actively dislike the people you’re having over for Thanksgiving, having extended family and friends around (for a short time at least) boosts your oxytocin levels and improves your immune system, according to a 2009 study in Biologist. And a 2006 study in the Scandinavian Journal Hospitality and Tourism shows that the most memorable moments among family members are when every person in a family is together and happy.
The benefits of communal family time during the holidays don’t stop with our moods. Researchers from Harvard suggest that connecting with family during the holidays helps relieve harmful levels of stress, which if left untreated can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function and insulin regulation.
3) Exercise and eat a healthy dinner
Thanksgiving gets a bad rap for being an unhealthy holiday with gargantuan, 3,000 calorie proportions. But your Thanksgiving dinner can actually be incredibly good for you if you embrace some healthy holiday foods and ditch other unhealthy ones.
And if you exercise before and after eating, say a brisk 15 to 30 minute walk, control the impulse to stuff yourself with too much food, and also opt out of fatty, meat-heavy foods, then you can actually make the Thanksgiving feast work for your body instead of against it.
One of the simplest ways to turn any holiday feast into a healthy meal is to treat it like any other meal. Don’t ditch having breakfast that day, and don’t starve yourself prior to the festive meal. As for exercising afterward, try to recruit a friend or family member to walk with you; the more people you have on board with your plan, the harder it’ll be to back out of it.
But before you walk out the door, take a few minutes to help the host clean up. The process will prevent you from gorging yourself with second or third helpings, and help your host reduce their stress levels.
Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Berkeley.edu. Accessed: November 2, 2015.
Boost Your Health With a Dose of Gratitude. WebMD.com. Accessed: November 3, 2015.
Gratitude for 'little things' is key to relationships. TheTelegraph.co.uk. Accessed November 3, 2015.
Decline In Face-to-Face Contact Linked to Biological Changes in Humans As Social Networking Increases. Aricsigman.com. Accessed November 10, 2015.
Family Holidays. A Qualitative Analysis of Family Holiday Experiences. Tandfonline.com. Accessed November 10, 2015.
The health benefits of strong relationships. Health.Harvard.edu. Accessed November 10, 2015.
How to Survive a 3,000-Calorie Thanksgiving Meal. LiveScience.com. Accessed November 14, 2015.
5 Holiday Meals with a Healthy Twist. Blog.TreeClassics.com. Accessed November 14, 2015.
5 Ways to Have a Healthier Thanksgiving. Health.com. Accessed November 14, 2015.
Reviewed November 16, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith