Gratitude, Love, and Breathing through Thanksgiving

Gratitude, Love, and Breathing through Thanksgiving

I don’t know about you, but this year I’m feeling particularly anxious about hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house. In the past, I have happily hosted many Thanksgivings for my family and friends. In fact, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday; I really enjoy the tradition of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in my pajamas while I prepare the turkey to go into the oven, savoring the aroma of the freshly baking apple pie, and the sweet smell of savory herbs, pine and cinnamon wafting throughout the house. I don’t mind cooking for 10, 12, 15 or even more people — to me it’s an expression of love and gratitude and an opportunity to connect with family.

Yes, there’s always family drama. That’s the norm in most (all?) families across our great nation. But this year there’s potential for even greater drama with differing political points of view represented at many Thanksgiving tables, including my own. To try to preempt what has the potential to be even more heightened post-election drama this year, I have decided to institute “house rules” and boldly announce them at the beginning of our gathering: “No politics. Nothing about the election, its aftermath, the candidates, appointments, and ensuing policies.” I fear that’s going to go over like a lead balloon, knowing my crowd of passionate arm chair scholars and activists. But I can hope for the best.

At my Thanksgiving table will be the usual cast of progressive family members and friends. And this year, I also will be hosting a couple of guests who not only supported the president-elect but also worked for his campaign. Like many people in this country, I know my family and friends have a need to keep talking about the election and what is happening during the upcoming administration’s transition to the White House. I suspect that our guests do not, nor will they want to have to defend themselves to a table of longtime liberal Democrats. I’m hoping that we all will do our best to keep the conversation centered around what we all have in common — love and gratitude for our respective families, friends and our pets, of course.

In the event that my “house rules” are violated (who follows the rules anyway?) I am coming to the Thanksgiving table authentically, leading with my character strengths, as well as a simple practice from the science of Positive Psychology: Three Deep Breaths. And I encourage you to join me.


Lead with your character strengths (and if Love, Gratitude, and Perspective are not at the top of your character strengths profile, move them up for the day and lead with them anyway)

My top 5 characters strengths (according to the VIA Strengths Survey developed by positive psychology researchers) are as follows:

  1. Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks
  2. Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people
  3. Perspective: [wisdom]: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people
  4. Social Intelligence: [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick
  5. Humor: [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes


Practice Three Deep Breaths–with Intention

In addition to bringing my top character strengths to my Thanksgiving table, I will also bring a positive psychology practice that has been scientifically proven to shift us from the fight/flight mode to a relaxation mode: Three Deep Breaths. Thomas Crum, author of Three Deep Breaths: Finding Power and Purpose in a Stressed-Out World and presenter in the fields of conflict resolution, peak performance, and stress management, describes this exercise as “an approach to bring balance, purpose and power into our lives.” It’s not just about breathing. It’s about the intention behind the breathing. According to Crum, “mind/body techniques like the Three Deep Breaths, which focus on proper breathing, deep relaxation, and mindfully choosing our perspectives, can actually bring balance to our autonomic nervous system.”

It’s a technique that takes 30 seconds and can be practiced anytime, anywhere — at a stop light, at a business meeting, in between classes, or at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

The Three Deep Breaths exercise goes like this:

Breath # 1: The Centering Breath
Breath in the present moment, with balance and energy

Breath # 2: The Possibility Breath
Breath in the “me I want to be” with power and purpose

Breath # 3: The Discovery Breath
Breath in the mystery, let go of judgment
For me, at Thanksgiving, I will practice Three Deep Breaths like this, saying these lines to myself as I take three long slow deep breaths:

Breath #1: The Centering Breath
“I am present in this moment, breathing in calming energy, slowly and deeply.”

Breath #2: The Possibility Breath
“I am a kind, loving person, opening my heart to all at this table.”

Breath #3: The Discovery Breath
“All who sit at my Thanksgiving table with me are here with their loving and grateful energy to share the bounty of this moment with family and friends.”
So, my friends I invite you to practice these two pieces of Practical Wisdom with me. And hope for the best.

If you ask my family, they will tell you that I have been known to “melt down” at times during stressful family dinners that are fraught with emotional drama. This year, it is my intention to practice what I preach. This year will be different because I am choosing to lead with my character strengths — to feel and show gratitude, act and speak from a place of love and perspective, with a lot of social intelligence and a little humor thrown in. And to breathe through Thanksgiving.

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