Making a List; No, Not that List!

It is fall, folks. Despite the fact that you can no longer buy a bag of Brach’s Autumn Mix, or a single strand of faux fall leaf garland or pumpkin-scented potpourri, unless the clearance bins haven’t been completely cleared out. It’s not even Thanksgiving Day, and already it is passe. My Facebook feed is filled with photos of your decked-out halls. St. Nick has already opened shop at the mall. The morning news is stuffed with fliers to stuff your Christmas wish list. And I can’t focus on Thanksgiving.

Don’t be too hasty to label me Scrooge. I love Christmas – at Christmastime.

Thanksgiving Day seems the perfect holiday. I don’t intend to argue the historical accuracy of the first Thanksgiving, or suggest that we perpetuate the idea that the Pilgrims and Native Americans dwelled forever in gratitude for each other. But setting aside a day to join with family and friends around a table of plenty and share with one another out of our abundance, with grateful hearts, is worthwhile. John Tierney, in his article in The New York Times, calls it “the most psychologically correct holiday of the year.” He goes on to say that psychologists are paying close attention recently to the implications of developing a spirit of gratitude. Studies have linked thankfulness to better health, sounder sleep and less anxiety and depression, among other findings. So apparently, Bing Crosby was in tune when he crooned along with Rosemary Clooney, “When I am worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep counting my blessings.” (Take note when you watch White Christmas this year – AFTER Thanksgiving.)

Thankfulness has also been linked to kinder attitudes and behavior toward others; even, Tierney remarks, “making people less likely to turn aggressive toward others when provoked.” Gratitude is the necessary prerequisite for generosity and hospitality. It is difficult to share and open your heart to others when you have not cultivated a thankful spirit. It is difficult to be a good neighbor without generosity and hospitality. Loving our neighbor, then, requires practicing the art of being thankful. And it appears starting really can be as simple as counting your blessings. One study by psychologist Robert A. Emmons had participants keep a journal in which once a week they wrote one sentence each describing five things for which they were thankful. After two months, positive effects were reported by the participants: increased optimism and happiness and fewer physical problems.

I don’t know about you, but I am finding it hard to be mindful of things for which I am thankful while simultaneously thinking of what I might want for Christmas, or even what others might want for Christmas. So, this week, set aside your Christmas lists and make yourself a Thanksgiving list. Scrounge up a bag of Autumn Mix. Or at least some plain old candy corn.

Then go ahead, count your blessings. Then do it again. And again.