More thankful this Thanksgiving

Tough economic times may make people more thankful this Thanksgiving, says Samuel T. Gladding, professor of counseling and an expert on families.

“I think many families will be staying home this holiday season — some with anxiety, others with hope, but the majority with gratitude for what they have. We are not so different in 2010 from 1930 during the Great Depression,” Gladding says.

Gratitude is a key to positive mental health, he says. And, financial distress can actually help people be more thankful for relationships and people and non-material things.

“While many are struggling financially, it is heartwarming to focus on what we value more, which is human relationships and moments that don’t have a monetary value,” says Gladding, who is the author of several books on family counseling.

Sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving has, for the most part, avoided the consumerism of other holidays.  Instead of centering on gifts, it is a time set aside for family, friends and the shared experience of making and eating a meal.

Gladding offers several suggestions for how to foster gratitude and build family connections at Thanksgiving:

  • Take time to reflect on what has gone right with your life.
  • Tell stories. Whether you are a religious or non-religious person, tell stories that reflect the good in people.
  • Strengthen generational ties by asking older members of the family to describe how they got through hard times. Experience with resilience can be educational and inspirational to younger people.
  • Encourage conversations with kids about what they are most thankful for other than their possessions.
  • Continue a ritual or start a new one.
  • Try to avoid cynicism and anger even if you have lost a job or are facing financial uncertainty.
  • Give your time and talents to others by reaching out and including them or helping them in some non-material way.

The structure of the family is different now — more single parents, blended families and distant extended families, Gladding says. But, nearly 80 years after the Depression, we find ourselves where we were — being grateful for the essentials.

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