Thousands of locally-based Guyanese just celebrated on Thursday the American holiday of Thanksgiving, which has, over the years, inexorably infiltrated these local shores, much to the dismay of some of their countrymen. These Guyanese traditionalists have viewed askance this phenomenon, despairing that it was proof positive of the wholesale Americanisation of our culture and our status as ‘mimic men’.
Of all the Americanisms to adopt, the celebration of Thanksgiving is one of the more benign and can redound to our benefit if we truly grasp the concept of giving thanks and being grateful. The Thanksgiving Day celebration dates back to the early 1600s, and commemorates the Native Americans saving the Pilgrim immigrants who arrived on the Mayflower – the seminal event regarded as the founding of modern America – from starvation and exposure by teaching them how to plant crops, to hunt and to fish as well as other survival skills (That their settler descendants would eventually reward that act of kindness by pushing the native inhabitants out of the land they so generously shared and the accompanying misery that went with that dispossession are topics for discussion another day).
At the first Thanksgiving, which was called to celebrate the settlers’ first harvest, undoubtedly, the overwhelming emotion was gratitude: gratitude to their rescuers, gratitude for life, gratitude for salvation.
It is good to have gratitude, to give thanks.
Being grateful, according to scientists, is crucial to true happiness. The Harvard Medical School states, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
“People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of childhood or past blessings); the present (not taking good fortune for granted as it comes), and the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude). Regardless of the inherent or current level of someone’s gratitude, it’s a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further.
“Two psychologists, Dr Robert A Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr Michael E McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.
“One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
“Another leading researcher in this field, Dr Martin EP Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.”
So, rather than being an indication of the counterfeit, local celebrations of Thanksgiving, if participants live up to the name of the holiday would lead to a fuller, richer life.
It is to our ultimate benefit to be grateful and give thanks for the many blessings that accompany life and the Creator responsible for such.