It is a time to celebrate. A day in which permission is granted to ignore the rules for measured eating and go ahead and undermine your health. But Thanksgiving may also be seen as a boon to health--the mental variety. According to psychologists and psychiatrists, the holiday and its opportunity to reflect on abundance can provide a powerful boost for the psyche.
"I believe that we feel best when we're loving," explained psychologist Jordan Paul, who with his wife, Margaret, is the author of "Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You?" (Comp Care Publications). "But most people think they're going to feel good if somebody loves them . So they try and get love. But the opposite is true. We feel good when we behave in loving ways.
"A lot of our behavior is unloving and most people don't like to look at that fact about themselves. Any behavior that is out to get something from somebody else is not loving. Loving is giving, the act of feeling gratitude."
As on Thanksgiving, which people originally celebrated by expressing gratitude.
"Looking at the positive things in life and feeling good about the people around us makes us feel good and that's good for our mental health," Paul added. "We should have a dose of that every day. When we feel gratitude, we're not blaming. We're not angry. We're feeling good and feeling close because we're recognizing the positive things in our lives.
But not everyone recognizes the gifts in their lives just because it's Thanksgiving. In fact, psychologist Margaret Paul noted, "for some people Thanksgiving is not wonderful. It's a real family time and for those people who are alone it can be a really hard time."
For such individuals, Paul recommends gathering other people who are alone or becoming part of a family and, of course, giving thanks in any case.
'Very Inspiring Feeling'
"I believe that gratitude in itself is a very inspiring feeling," she said. "More than almost any other feeling, it helps people feel better about themselves, if they're coming from a loving place inside. If people are truly feeling gratitude, they get out of their egos. They can tune into their hearts, into their lovingness. I'm not sure that the holiday of Thanksgiving is actually experienced on a spiritual level that way but it probably was at one time. If it is celebrated that way, it can be a beautiful experience."
And, that experience may increase. "My own belief system is that what you put out comes back to you," Paul said. "When you put out gratitude, you tend to generate more of that. And when you put out anger and resentment, that's going to come back to you, too."
Dr. Hyla Cass, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the medical director of the Learning Center in Encino, also observes that expressions of gratitude--on Thanksgiving or on any day--are essentially expressions of love.
"One of the most important things we need as human beings is love," Cass said. "In expressing gratitude, we're expressing love toward another human being and we get into an attitude of love ourselves.
More Positive Perspective
"Love and gratitude are important not only for our happiness but for our survival," she continued. "Often we take things for granted and focus on what goes wrong or on the negative aspects of, say, a relationship or a situation. By focusing on what we have, we're shifting our focus to a more positive perspective. And by getting into a loving attitude, we're more in touch with the spiritual side of our existence, which we can lose sight of in our very busy lives."
Cass has found with clients in her own practice that unexpected opportunities for appreciation and gratitude have snapped people right out of depressions.
She tells of one woman who got much better when her husband became ill. "Suddenly she had a purpose, something to live for. She felt appreciated by him and could appreciate the things that she did have," Cass recalled. "Her perspective shifted. She was grateful for the things that were still positive in her life."
People living in the United States, and particularly Southern California, have much to be thankful for, Cass pointed out, saying: "When we think of the intolerable living conditions in a large part of the world--wars, starvation, and natural disasters that we've been spared--we have a great deal for which to be grateful."
Improved Peace of Mind
In the opinion of Jennings Davis, a professor of education and psychology in Pepperdine University's Graduate School of Education and Psychology, giving thanks is not only a means to improved peace of mind, it's also one of the best ways of affirming another individual.